Perfidia NPR coverage of Perfidia by James Ellroy. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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by James Ellroy

Hardcover, 608 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $28.95 |


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NPR Summary

Follows a post-Pearl Harbor murder of a Japanese family that entangles a brilliant Japanese-American forensic chemist, an adventurous woman, a future police chief and an archvillain.

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Awards and Recognition

2 weeks on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

NPR stories about Perfidia

A 'Lasciviously LA' Lunch With Crime Novelist James Ellroy

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James Ellroy's 'Perfidia' Is A Brutal, Beautiful Police Procedural

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Perfidia

11:34 a.m.

I ran outside. Elmer and Brenda blurred. Radios blared all around me. It was one enraged shout.

I got my car and pulled out, southbound. Traffic was light. I turned on my own radio. The news was all WAR.

It was a sneak attack. Japanese air squadrons bombed Hawaii early this morning. The Pearl Harbor naval base was brutally hit. The Pacific Fleet was decimated. Soldiers machine-gunned at Schofield Barracks. Honolulu under siege. Two-faced Jap envoys. Roosevelt's imminent declaration of war.

I turned east on Beverly. The newsstand at Fairfax was swamped. Newsboys ducked into traffic and yelled, "No papers yet!"

I knew I was running. I didn't know where I was going. I knew who I was running from. Elmer's indictment of William H. Parker echoed.

The news was spreading. I saw men affix flags to storefronts. I saw men on rooftops with binoculars and rifles. Police cars sped past me, Code 3. The street tableaux cohered. It told me where to go. I turned off the radio and floored the gas.

Prowl cars swerved across westbound lanes and tore eastbound. I approached downtown. Cops had a dozen Japanese boys spread prone outside Belmont High. They frisked them, kicked them and held shotguns to their heads.

I crossed the 1st Street bridge and pulled into a parking lot. An attendant yelled, "The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor!" I tossed my keys at him and ran.

City Hall was under siege. Prowl cars were up on the south-facing lawn. The doorways were flanked with cops armed with machine guns.

I ran. People clustered on the 1st Street curb and played their car radios. I turned north on Spring. Yes, already — men on the Federal Building steps.

The line extended down the sidewalk, a good twenty-deep. The men had mobilized within moments of the news. There were young men, older men and high school boys. One boy dribbled a basket-ball. I heard JAPS and WAR ten thousand times.

I got in line. I was the only woman. The men jabbered and smiled at me. I heard GIRL along with WAR and THE JAPS. An olive drab sedan pulled to the curb. A Marine Corps captain, an Army major and a Navy lieutenant got out. The men in line cheered them. They ran up the steps and stood by the ground-floor doorway.

The doors flew open. Three sailors carried out tables and chairs. They positioned them, facing the crowd. The captain and lieutenant sat down. A sailor flashed V for Victory. The major pulled a Japanese flag from his pocket and spit on it. The men in line cheered.

The major tossed the flag into the crowd. A boy grabbed it, spit on it and passed it back. The next boy spit on it and tore off a piece of the fabric. The cheers became a continuous roar. The flag traveled back down the line, shredded and drenched in spittle.

The flag came to me. I spit on it, threw it down and ground it under my feet. The cheers escalated to roars.

Two tall young men picked me up and held me at full arm's length. I floated above the crowd, in my very own swirl. The whole world dipped into me. I yelled, "AMERICA!" as loud as I could.

The roar went louder and louder. Motorists whistled and waved. Every man in line looked up and saluted me as I swirled.

The tall young men lowered me; I kissed them as my feet touched the ground. The line pressed toward the recruiting stand. It extended down to 1st Street now. Men impulsively leaped from passing cars, ran up and got in line.

The line toward the steps; we were pressed tightly together; we moved as one body, connected. Time went haywire. We lit cigarettes. Flasks went around. Conversations overlapped. I got more and more details. The death toll was mounting. Big battle-ships went down. We've got to nip this shit in the bud.

The line moved. Motorists honked their horns and cheered us. I studied the Marine captain's uniform. The deep green against khaki was a knockout. Semper Fi. Screw Captain William H. Parker and his shrouded agenda. I decided to join the United States Marine Corps.

The men in front of me were given forms and told to return for further processing. I was hoarse from cheering and too many cigarettes. The Army major motioned me over. He seemed to be amused. He said, "Sorry, sweetheart. We aren't taking girls yet."

I said, "I'm willing to go now." The major looked at the other officers. They all seemed amused.

The Navy man said, "We didn't make the rules, sister."

The Marine said, "The canteens'll need volunteers. You dance with the boys and send them off happy."

I said, "Give me one of those forms. I'll come back tomorrow. The rules will change between now and then."

Boos and catcalls broke out behind me. The Navy man went Shush now. I started to say something. A wadded-up ball of paper hit the back of my head.

A man yelled, "Stow it, lady!" A man yelled, "You had your solo! Give us a chance!"

I turned around. Another paper bomb hit me. A chorus of rasp- berries blew.

The major thumbed a stack of carbon sheets with photo strips attached. He hit a sheet and went Aha. He held it up. I saw myself in a snapshot.

"There's a subversive hold on you, Miss Lake. Some kind of meetings you went to."

Men jostled me off the steps and jeered me. I stared at them and started to walk back toward the sidewalk. A paper ball bounced off my skirt. Men put their thumbs on their noses and made pig sounds. I stopped and stared harder. It made them laugh. Two men spit on me. I balled my fists and went toward them. Then I sensed something.

I wiped spit off my blouse. That Something stepped in front of me.

It was a boy-man. He was about six foot six and seemed too big for his clothes. He wore a brown wool suit, a white shirt and a tartan bow tie.

The spitting men looked at him. He grabbed their heads, smashed them and brought a knee up. I heard bones break and saw blood burst like they only had one face.

The spitting men screamed. The enlistment lines dispersed. The recruiters stood up and plain stared.

Then the boy-man took my elbow and steered me. Then we were down on the sidewalk and around the corner. Then we were sitting in the Hall of Justice cafeteria.

Where a waitress ran up and said, "The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor!"

Where the boy-man grinned and said, "No shit?"

The waitress huffed and walked off. I said, "My name is Kay Lake." The boy-man said, "Scotty Bennett."

I poured two cups of serve-ur-self coffee. My hands shook. I said, "To victory."

We clinked cups. A radio was bolted to the wall above our table. The broadcast was all Japs! Scotty Bennett doused the volume.

"Some day, huh? We'll be telling our kids about it.

I laughed. "'Our' kids, or kids in general?"

He laughed. "It's one of those days where you can't rule anything out."

From Perfidia by James Ellroy. Copyright 2014 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Random House.