17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The Cold Six Thousand is a daringly direct take on the biggest events in America in the 1960s – the assassinations of President John F Kennedy, civil rights leader Martin Luther King and JFK's younger brother Senator Robert F Kennedy. All this set against the first few years of the US involvement in Vietnam, the cold war and the stand-off with Cuba, with considerable influence from such figureheads as FBI Director J Edgar Hoover, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and the leading dons of the US Mafia.
Officially we know who killed JFK, MLK and RFK, but after reading this sprawling novel, sequel to the even better American Tabloid, you may wonder if the author's version of events is closer to the truth. All of the 'official' guilty parties feature, including Palestinian activist Sirhan Sirhan who is still in a California jail some 38 years on....but did he pull the trigger of the gun that killed Bobby Kennedy? This novel doesn't specifically and unambiguously answer that question, but Ellroy is in no doubt at all as to who was behind the presidential assassination.
If taken literally (which is difficult not to do) it's impossible not to be disgusted at the extraordinary levels of corruption, racism and political manipulation that lay behind the face of the United States in the Swinging Sixties. The Ku Klux Klan were highly influential in CIA strategy, and although the political impetus behind the US involvement in Vietnam is somewhat glossed over (Linden B Johnson barely has a talking part, unlike JFK in American Tabloid), the CIA's heroin processing 'business' is documented in great detail, as one of the three primary characters Wayne Tedrow Junior (a former policeman) becomes primarily responsible for the labs set up in Vietnam and Laos for creating a massive 'White Horse' production line which has at least two key objectives - to establish a distribution network in Las Vegas among negroes only, and to finance 'The Cause' : collaboration with the Mafia in their attempts to overthrow Castro in Cuba and repossess their casinos which they had invested so much money into.
The other two lead characters, Ward Littell and Pete Bondurant, are carried over from American Tabloid, and for me one of the best features of both books is the description of how the lives and personalities of these two men are shaped and changed by their murderous activities. These men are cold-blooded killers with soft hearts - and in Bondurant's case a rather weak one.
In a way it's amazing that so much history has been squeezed into one riveting novel; if you know nothing about the truth on which it's based it still makes compelling reading, but if (like me) you are among the many who want to know what really happened back then, this story will probably satisfy on another level, and put the whole sordid series of events into some kind of perspective.
I cannot miss this opportunity to add that there appears to be a case for an allegation of history repeating itself, with the US invading Iraq under the one context while the world was/is convinced that the real motive was to get its hands on a valuable commodity. Back in the 1960s, it was a US invasion of another country cloaked under the paranoia of Communism (as opposed to terrorism today) while the commodity of choice back then was heroin. Ellroy finished The Cold Six Thousand only a year or so before the US started the Iraq War - now his words have a sense of prophetic familiarity.
Truly a must-read. I guess that the third and final piece of Ellroy's trilogy (yet to be published) will continue where The Cold Six Thousand left off, and possibly span the presidency of Richard Nixon. 1968 to 1974 was yet another scandal-ridden period for US politics - I wonder if Ellroy will do his version of the Apollo mission to the moon? Thousands doubt we ever landed there!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2001
Sonny Liston cameos in this book, and like him the novel is heavyweight, brooding, complex and admirable as much for its flaws as its accomplishments. From time to time the writing style leaves you punch-drunk, Ellroy develops the technique he has used in the past of short clipped sentences, but takes them to a new level. There is barely a sentence in the book which is over eight words.
But every word is made to count and once you get the rhythm, hear the words in your head, what seemed odd and contrary suddenly becomes the most terrifying children's story you have ever read. That's what the technique of pargraphs like "Pete saw big D. Jack's head went Kablooey. Jackie dived for scraps" becomes in the end; the rhythm of children's storytelling set to work on the powers of history and the workings of driven men.
If there is any criticism to be made of the book it is that it lacks the central engaging force of Kemper Boyd that made American Tabloid so great. But, on the flipside of that, we see that Pete and Ward have moved on, developed. They are no longer relishing the playing of games, the weaving of history. They are caught up in it, unable to get out.
Ellroy sets a new morality in the book - Pete kills innocents to cover up JFK's murder (conventionally a bad thing), Pete kills mobsters to protect his friend's girlfriend from being killed (good or bad ? they're both murders, after all)
I hope to God he's already writing the third one. Read Tabloid first, then read it again, then read this.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2011
I made the mistake of reading this before its prequel, American Tabloid - entirely my fault, as I hadn't researched the novel before I borrowed it from my library, and didn't realise it was part of a trilogy. Needless to say, my next book will be that one. Apparently, American Tabloid is regarded by many as Ellroy's best work, so if this is anything to go by, I really can't wait. I'm sure I'll discover the disadvantage I was at, not having read the first novel, but it really didn't diminish my understanding or enjoyment while I was reading.
The story begins moments after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. It centres around 3 fictional characters, whose lives are linked to the assassination and the machinations behind it. Fiction is interwoven with fact, quasi-fact and conspiracy theory, as the depth and scale of institutional corruption is revealed at a cracking pace. A series of historical events and personalities are all linked by one dark unifying thread. However improbable the hypothesis may be, it can't fail to make you question the real motivations of those in power, and wonder just how much the general public are misled and kept in the dark about what really makes the political world tick. The plot is intricate and clever, and the arguments are convincing enough to make me want to seek out further, more factual accounts of the events portrayed.
Before The Cold Six Thousand, I had only read Ellroy in translation, as I was living abroad at the time and only had access to foreign language books. So I was fairly shocked on encountering his writing style - clipped, punchy sentences with minimal punctuation; sparse visual descriptions of characters and scenes; heavy use of occasionally impenetrable 1960s American slang; unconventional spelling; inserts of 'recordings' and authentic newspaper headlines to replace conventional narrative. I found the idiosyncratic style dynamic and compelling, once I'd got used to it, and apparently it is unique to this trilogy, so I wouldn't have come across it in any attempts to translate it.
Until this novel, I had more or less had Ellroy down as an author who could build up character and plot to a certain point, but would then lose it as the climax and explanation revealed themselves as being totally ridiculous and almost comically extreme. The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere and Clandestine all left me cold in this way. I don't even know what possessed me to pick up The Cold Six Thousand, but I'm glad I did: it was utterly gripping from start to finish, and the conclusion didn't disappoint. I can say I finally 'get' the Ellroy buzz.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 July 2009
This is not Ellroys best book, but it might be his second best. The Sequel to American Tabloid is as much a journey in writing style as it is a sweeping American historical narrative. It has all the dark humour and edgy realism of 'AT' but with a little more blood and nastiness.
Crime replaces politics in this and it is no less intriguing and diverting. Many readers struggle withe pared down and nihilistic writing style, Ellroy is dispensing with elongated metaphor and choosing snap his descriptions and prose at the reader. Those that claim it is unreadbale or too hardwork are best leaving the book alone. It is not for the faint hearted or literary lillie-livered. It is a book immense poise and hubris, but it always entertains.
A must for any Ellroy fan.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2001
Kennedy. Martin Luther King. Hoover. Howard Hughes. An ex-FBI man turned Mob lawyer. A young cop sent to kill a black pimp.
Real places, real people? Real enough. Ellroy's epic journey through America's recent past is made real through Ellroy's fast, edgy and brutal prose. Short sentences, nearly all dialog, and yet it works. The writing is pared down to the rawest, most evocative essentials, leaving a rhythm that washes over you.
Uncompromisingly violent, yet hypnotically powerful, the story moves from location to location, and character to character without losing pace or coherence. Extracts from FBI memos and phone transcripts are presented to us.
We see Pete Bondurant, a 6'4 French hitman scalping communists in Vietnam. We follow Ward Littell, a guilt-ridden ex-FBI man turned mob lawyer in Vegas who has to watch as those he admires most are killed. Supporting characters come and go; Barb, the Twist dancer; Chuck Rogers, right-wing nut; John Stanton, CIA covert ops man. We watch as the American dream crumbles with the shootings of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
People die. People get tortured. And yet we want to be there. We want to taste the power and experience the greed that drives - that drove - this era. This, more than anything, is a testament to Ellroy's ability to propel us into his uniquely dark and violent vision.
And the negatives? Well, maybe it doesn't add as much as it could to its prequel, American Tabloid. But when American Tabloid was arguably one of the best books of the 1990s, its a tough act to follow. Its also arguable whether this is a good book for a newcomer to Ellroy. Maybe some will find it too hard to identify with the main characters - Ward is too weak, Pete too dangerous and Wayne is perhaps too thin a character. Maybe some people will be offended by the racist and homophobic language, or the graphic violence. But hey, noone's making them read it.
In summary, The Cold Six Thousand is fierce, raw and uncompromising. One becomes fascinated by, and is drawn to, the sleaze, the power and the turmoil of this fascinating period of America's darker history. If you're still interested, read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2001
They're all here... Leaving off from the dizzying heights of American Tabloid, Ellroy doesn't fail to impress in the second of his epics encapsulating the American dream of the sixties. The usual suspects are still continuing with their agendas - RFK, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, The Outfit - from the first book, along with a thick spread of new faces. The dialogue is as sharp as ever, the scope just as grand (the story jumps from Dallas to Vegas to Cuba to Vietnam and back again), and although the stoccato style of the prose can be a little uncomfortable at first, don't be put off. Just let the plot snowball breathtakingly in front of you, as the author delivers once again - in spades.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2006
Novels such as `The Black Dahlia', `L.A Confidential', `American Tabloid' and `White Jazz `along with his personal testimony `My Dark Places' have elevated ex-junkie drop-out James Elroy to a colossus of American literature and eminent man of letters. Or, as a currently interred bank robber acquaintance of mine recently put it, `His name should be mentioned in the same breath as Steinbeck.'
Elroy's world, littered as it is, with gangsters, pimps, hookers, movie stars, racists and politicians has basically mugged the retro-pulp of Chandler, Thompson and Spillane and run with his kill-gotten gains straight over the wild side and into the abyss of the American nightmare.
His latest `The Cold Six Thousand' is an epic journey; book-ended by the Kennedy assassinations of 63 and 68. Fact and fiction collide as father hating cop Wayne Tedrow Jnr finds himself embroiled in the JFK conspiracy and the vortex of world shaking tragedies that followed. The men that made modern America flicker before us like a scratched Super 8 of moral degeneracy and decay as Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, The Klan, Jimmy Hoffa, The CIA, The Mob, The FBI, Fidel Castro, Sam Giancana, Sonny Liston, Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray lie, cheat, maim and kill, against an horrific tableaux on par with the hellish depictions of painter Hieronymus Bosch.
With the' The Cold Six Thousand' Elroy appears to have split his critics with its almost impenetrable staccato stylings and hipster-speak which would be more at home in the mouths of the 50's beatniks - certainly the delivery is at odds with the timbre of the books corporate gangsters and hoodlum politicians. It's almost as if Elroy was in such a hurry to tell the story that he barely had time to write it - an epileptic Jack Kerouac on an amphetamine comedown.
`The Cold Six Thousand' is, never-the-less, a terrifying thrill ride through an era which has branded world events ever since. Those five terrifying years in which the world was apparently swinging was, if this book is anything to go by, actually `Turning on, tuning in and dropping out' towards annihilation. Today's America was forged in the fires of that terrible half decade and I can hardly wait for Oliver Stone to commit it to celluloid so we can all rest easy and say... "It's only a film."
on 5 November 2012
James Ellroy is one of the most fascinating figures in the pantheon of crime fiction. His autobiography, 'My Dark Places', may be the most moving and honest account of obsession, tragedy, addiction and recovery ever written, and his LA noir novels were perhaps the best crime fiction of his generation. 'American Tabloid', predecessor to 'The Cold Six Thousand', is likewise a brilliant, creative interpretation of recent American history that shines light onto the meeting-place of the US intelligence establishment, Hollywood, politics, and organised crime. However, it prefaced a curious decline in Ellroy's work, abandoning his noir-ish style for clipped, staccato sentences whose very simplicity, in the face of dense and complex plots, can lead to great difficulty in making sense of events.
'The Cold Six Thousand' takes this stylistic innovation yet further, with countless three-to-five word declarative sentences that often leave the reader a little baffled. The prose style makes the plot progressively harder to follow, and I sometimes feel that as Ellroy's self-esteem increased, the clarity and power of his work underwent a striking, parallel decline. A thoroughly enjoyable read, 'The Cold Six Thousand' is nonetheless impenetrable, and marked by a tendency for previously murdered characters to reappear with new names - a tendency continued in the third volume of the series, 'Blood's a Rover.' All are entertaining - but not the works of genius that Ellroy's pretty much declared them to be in interview, and by the time we get to 'Blood's a Rover', there no longer seems to be much point trying to make sense of the sequence of events - emeralds, pimps, heroin, Nixon, Hoover, voodoo, it all flows in rapid-fire bursts of compelling but sometimes incomprehensible prose. The overall view of American history as largely a consequence of the machinations of thugs and mobsters, does stretch credulity - though again, in an interesting fashion. Ellroy's trilogy exemplifies what the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan termed 'the paranoid style' in American politics: it's always a conspiracy, never a lone gunman, and emeralds or lizards are at the root of it all.
'The Cold Six Thousand' and 'Blood's a Rover' make a virtue of their impenetrability: and Ellroy's undeniably one of the great American noir entertainers. But historian and/or philosopher he ain't, and sometimes I miss the more fluent prose of 'Silent Terror' and other, earlier Ellroy novels, that deployed sentences long enough to lend some depth to characterisation. There's less and less of a sense of interior worlds, mindscapes, as his sentences shorten, and while he remains, at his worst, a great deal of fun, I do wish he'd take himself and his experimental style a little less seriously. The further he pushes the simplicity of his prose, the less interesting it becomes: the experiment worked well to begin with, in 'American Tabloid', but as it was replicated through the trilogy, the results seemed less and less substantial.
on 15 May 2001
Hewn from the same block as American Tabloid, with many overlapping charcters and narative threads, I found this more personnal and affecting, if a little less superficially dazzling. Its difficult to believe we can be touched and moved by men (and women) who commit such callous, barbaric, and sometimes downright evil acts - but we are. Difficult to even start to classify this - Ellroy remains as far above conventional "thriller" writers as Mozart above the composer of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Make sure you have access to a comfortable chair and a pot of strong coffee, as this will grip you long into at least one night.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2002
Ellroy always honest - see his autobiographical works - gives a glimpse of the America never seen. Using real life people -though they are all now dead - he examines Las Vegas owned by crime bosses and how the town corrupts his characters even the fearsome Canuck Pete who becomes mentor to a police officer going well off the rails. We see Vietnam as heroin producer and the problem it gives G.I.'s. Read this and be shocked. A very very good book.