Blood on the Moon [1984]

With James Ellroy’s first “Lloyd Hopkins” novel I return to a general ambivalence about artistic consumption recently. I was first alerted to James Ellroy by and Malcolm Craig, through a Dead Of Night demo conceived as an Ellroy story. White Jazz is my pick for his best novel of those that I’ve read, but LA Confidential and American Tabloid were also amazing in their way. I don’t exactly like these novels, because they’re not likeable, but they are truly exceptional.

Blood on the Moon is difficult to place in genre terms, because while the investigation of a crime is central, it is not a “Whodunnit” of the Christie kind. Nor is it really a procedural, despite the presence of a policeman as the central character, because the tools and techniques he uses are very much in the ratiocinative legacy of Holmes et al. As a psychological study, it is simplistic, assigning a total personality form to the response to trauma.

Really where it excels is in its graphic depiction of brutal violence and the consequences thereof, which I guess makes it a kind of sadistic violence-porn. In Six Walks In The Fictional Woods, Umberto Eco proposes that you can discern porn not from the presence of sex, but in the length of commonplace activities between sex: the longer these are drawn out the more likely you are watching porn. There are no really “commonplace” activities depicted in between the grisly scenes here, everything is carefully constructed to move either a crime or an investigation forward, or is straightforward exposition.

The immediacy, power, and vitality of Ellroy’s prose makes this a page-turner and a compelling read. Yet that masks a fundamentally simplistic plot and thematic synchronicity whose construction is not unlike a fairy story. The correspondence of this weakly-expressed structural form with the story-telling leitmotif lends credence to this interpretation, but I can’t quite understand at this time what the implications of that juxtaposition are.

What I’m saying is – I don’t get it. There’s a lot that could be going on, or it could just be the surface impression I got of a heavy-handed morality tale lathered in blood. I welcome any theories.

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