We’re waiting to buy a used copy for the Daily Mirror library, so I haven’t read James Ellroy’s “Perfidia,” but I thought it would be interesting to see how it’s doing.
“Perfidia” has yet to penetrate the New York Times or Los Angeles Times bestseller lists, although as of today, the hardcover is ranked No. 738 by Amazon. The Kindle version is ranked No. 727; the paperback is ranked 124,416; and the audio version narrated by Craig Wasson is unranked.
Sept. 24, 2014: Hardcover, No. 758; Kindle, No. 1,010; Paperback, No. 156,898
Sept. 25, 2014: Hardcover, No. 738; Kindle, No. 1,035; Paperback, No. 162,356.
Sept. 26, 2014: Hardcover, No. 875; Kindle, No. 1,067; Paperback, No. 333,617.
Sept. 28, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,026; Kindle, No. 1,586; Paperback, No. 157,794.
Sept. 29, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,144; Kindle, No. 1,381; Paperback, No. 107,133.
Sept. 30, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,774; Kindle, No. 1,359; Paperback, No. 315,804.
Oct. 1, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,324; Kindle, No. 1,845; Paperback, No. 97,178
Oct. 2, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,442; Kindle, No. 1,594; Paperback, No. 54,573.
Oct. 4, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,400; Kindle, No. 1,785; Paperback, No. 328,055.
Oct. 6, 2014: Hardcover, No. 1,588; Kindle, No. 2,652; Paperback, No. 336,562.
Oct. 9, 2014: Hardcover, No. 2,228; Kindle, No. 3,601; Paperback, No. 253,055
Oct. 15, 2014: Hardcover, No. 2,503; Kindle, No. 3,563; Paperback, No. 752,617
Oct. 29, 2014: Hardcover, No. 3,401; Kindle, No. 4,311; Paperback, No. 166,592. I think Amazon may have cut the price on the hardback, at $17.71 more expensive than the paperback at $19.75. “Perfidia” has 69 reviews: five stars, 28; four stars 11; three stars 9; two stars, 9; and one star, 12.
Burning Room/Kindle ($14.99)
|Nov. 2, 2014||2,440||17,332||5,110||11|
|Nov. 3, 2014||($17.44)
|Nov. 4, 2014||
|Nov. 6, 2014||($17.26)
|Nov. 9, 2014||($16.90)
|Nov. 11, 2014||($16.81)
|Nov. 15, 2014||($16.63)
Quote from a one-star review of “Perfidia”: The most wretched part of this book– and something I haven’t seen a single hipster reviewer mention — is just how badly Ellroy takes liberties with the history.
Quote from a one-star review of “Perfidia”: Trendy hipsters compare Ellroy’s sparse language with Hemingway, but it’s just BAD writing. There is always the weak claim that Ellroy does this to save time or space, but he repeats himself so often and in so many ways within the same book that it belies that argument.
I ignore Amazon reviews because too many of them are by the cyber claque. Five-star reviews, of course, predominate, but a number of reviews find fault with the book. 16 five-star reviews vs. 5 one-star reviews.
“Perfidia” was reviewed in the New York Times on Sept. 4, by Dennis Lahane.
By the end of the [L.A.] quartet, however, Ellroy’s prose style had transformed into a staccato bebop: less Chandler or Conrad and more Spillane, or possibly Runyon overdosing on Benzedrine. The clean, if haunting, opening of “The Black Dahlia” (“I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them.”) has given way, almost 30 years later, to the opening of Ellroy’s new novel, “Perfidia”: “There — Whalen’s Drugstore, Sixth and Spring Streets. The site of four recent felonies. 211 PC — Armed Robbery.” For better and often for worse, that style — jumpy, feverish and anarchic — mirrors the world we enter.
The Los Angeles Times didn’t review the book, but instead published a long interview by Scott Timberg who joined Ellroy in his home away from home, the overpriced and overrated Pacific Dining Car.
Perfidia is billed as the start of a second L.A. Quartet, this one a chronicle of the 1940s. Ellroy can’t give up the quest to reanimate the place, and the past, where his mother lived and died. He lets one of his characters sum up the mission: “I must recollect with yet greater fury. I will not die as long as I live this story. I run to Then to buy myself moments Now.” What lies ahead, as Ellroy presses deeper into the war years, is anyone’s guess, but like his protagonists, he is driven by a paradoxical obsession: to keep on digging up dark memories of the city, in the hope of rising above the psychic traumas of the past—not reborn, but newly wise.
Ultimately, Ellroy’s foibles as a writer swamp his many skills. His ubiquitous nail-gun prose (deployed in over-repeated triplets: “The wind kicked through. Broken glass shattered. Door padlocks thumped”) deafens the reader and disables the writer in his reach for range and subtlety. Too many scenes are served up on steroids and delivered in the same emotional register. The cumulative effect is to demote the impact of what is said and done, so that the noir gradually decomposes into a macabre burlesque – “Grown men wolf-howled and waved shrunken heads”.
The prose is still ultra-stripped back and punchy-jabby in the extreme, but Ellroy has retreated a little from the crazily condensed, almost code-like judder of his Underworld trilogy language. The shock and awe of Ellroy’s propulsive vision remains visceral, though, and reading him is about as physical as reading can get without being hit over the head by the book.
Reviewed for NPR by Jason Sheehan: “Plenty of reasons to pass Perfidia up. But this is why you should read it.”
Nothing has appeared in:
The New York Review of Books.
The New Yorker.