The Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction, as Ellroy is known to his cult following, is as unsentimental about his writing career as he is about the heroes of American history (who appear in his novels as plausibly fictionalized sleazeballs). He's a salesman with a gimmick. His goal is to perform, to entertain, to give his shtick and sell some books. He's like the Bible salesmen who comes knocking on the door with a little something for you to read -- only he won't claim that his books are wholesome. "They're books for the whole fucking family," he booms without restraint, "if the name of your family is Manson."
People who think that author readings should be heartfelt, spontaneous connections between authors and readers should consider heading elsewhere on Wednesday, because Ellroy would rather not waste their time with an unrehearsed show. "There's an art to reading," Ellroy notes. "And part of it is: Read the same thing every day at every whistle stop. You'll learn it, you'll memorize it, and you'll be able to distribute eye contact to your audience."
The reading kicks off Ellroy's tour in celebration of the paperback release of The Cold Six Thousand. Beginning just moments after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Cold Six Thousand follows American Tabloid as the second installment in what will eventually be a trilogy. The protagonist, Las Vegas cop Wayne Tedrow, gets on a plane to Dallas, where he's assigned to kill a pimp for six thousand bucks. The Dallas cops who greet him are reactionary sorts, gleeful when they hear that "some kook shot the President." From the moment Tedrow leaves the airport, he's involved in a giant cover-up of the assassination, whether he likes it or not.
Ellroy's impulse to fictionalize the facts in what he calls "a reckless attempt at verisimilitude" began with his reading of Don DeLillo's Libra, a retelling of the Kennedy assassination from Lee Harvey Oswald's perspective. "I realized that I could go out and write a much larger book about the harbingers of the assassination, supposing that everything started to percolate in 1958, and the assassination could occur off-page as a result of that confluence of human exiles, crazy CIA men and the mob," he says. Ellroy's hired researchers are now compiling fact sheets and chronologies for the third book in the trilogy, which will begin in 1968 and continue through 1972.
In the meantime, he's enjoying a quiet life in Johnson County. His first visit to Kansas City was to meet his wife's mother, who lives here. "I fell in love with the place," he says. "It's quiet, it's peaceful, it's homogenous." At least he's honest.