This review was written around 2002 and appeared on my second website. I have posted it because in ties in with my review of Chicago Lightning – The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories. The connection is that they both deal with fictional characters taking part in real-life events… Also check out the review of American Tabloid by James Ellroy.
This is the second part of James Ellroy’s “Underworld USA” trilogy that started with American Tabloid.
It begins in Dallas on 22 November 1963, just after the assassination of John F Kennedy, and literally hours after Tabloid ended. This is a continuation of the story in the truest sense of the word.
The Cold Six Thousand follows the paths of the main characters through to June 1968. This period was not the brightest in recent American history. It encompasses many elements: the JFK assassination, the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI’s attack on the civil rights movement, the start of the Vietnam war and the smuggling of heroin back to the US, the growth of Las Vegas and its take-over by Howard Hughes, and the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
This, then, was never going to be an enjoyable tale. It is unflinching in its portrayal of bad acts by bad men – dark, unforgiving, unredeeming and unredeemed.
Ellroy puts his characters through so much that I wanted to see where he would take them next. I wasn’t quite ready for what I got.
In Tabloid, there was an attraction to the characters. There was something novel about the fictional characters being inserted into an exciting world of power, opulence, influence and movie stars. There has always been an infatuation with the Kennedys, and as much as you learned of the bad points, you still enjoyed going along for the ride.
Not so with TCST. The characters are weary from all that has gone before, the schemes get more intricate, the circles are closing in. Their way of life is taking its toll – how much more can they take?
It’s not comfortable reading, but it draws you in. You aren’t fascinated anymore – you are repelled. All the characters are deeply flawed. You don’t agree with their viewpoints or their actions – but still you read on.
One thing more than any other has divided readers over the quality of the book – the use of short sentences, usually only four or five words long.
This is a distinct break from the style of American Tabloid, and is like nothing you have read before. It should be easy to read – and it works when things heat up – but it makes the book very difficult to get into. And to sustain this over nearly 700 pages demands a lot of the reader. Not only are you repelled by what you are reading, but you have to put in some serious effort.
Am I recommending this book? Yes.
Are there any qualifications? Definitely read American Tabloid first, otherwise you will be lost. I read Tabloid four years ago, and in the end I had to reread it before starting out on TCST properly (not that that was any hardship, as it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.)
Then sit back, put your feet up, and squirm.
“The Cold Six Thousand is an exercise in audacity: a difficult book, which demands to be read on its own terms… This book is designed to shock, and shock it does.” – Financial Times
“The Cold Six Thousand is a huge canvas – it is the Sistine Chapel of American bad juju” – James Ellroy.
“And as always, in the bluntest and politest possible way, I will state that any critics that don’t like my book can kiss my fucking ass.” – James Ellroy.