Suicide Hill – James Ellroy

Suicide Hill was a long cement embankment that led down to a deep sewage sluice in back of the Sepulveda V.A. Hospital. The hill and the scrubland that surrounded it were encircled by high barbed-wire fencing that was cut through in dozens of places by the gang members who used it as a meeting place and fuck turf.

In disgrace after a badly handled arrest in New Orleans, Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins is assigned as a liaison officer to an FBI investigation of a series of diabolical and clever bank robberies. Three men have done their homework: they choose bank managers who are having affairs, kidnap their girlfriends, and force the managers to open the banks early. When the bank robbers turn violent, Hopkins finds himself with a bit of information he would rather not have — information about police corruption that reaches into the office of his sworn enemy Fred Gaffney, head of the Internal Affairs Division.

Suicide Hill is a crappy name for a book, and the third book in James Ellroy’s Lloyd Hopkins series of books. I hate that I have to start in the middle of a trilogy and I hate more that the title of the book had very little inkling to what the story was really about.

Rice nodded along as Meyers told him of the crime scams he’d dreamed up in his sixteen years working the tank. A couple were almost smart, like a plan to capitalize on his locksmith expertise—getting a job as a bank guard and pilfering safe-deposit box valuables to local beat cops who frequented the bank, staying above suspicion by not leaving the bank and letting the beat cops do the fencing; but most were Twilight Zone material: prostitution rings of women prisoners bused around to construction sights, where they would dispense blowjobs to horny workers in exchange for sentence reductions; marijuana farms staffed by inmate “harvesters,” who would cultivate tons of weed and load it into the sheriffs helicopters that would drop it off into the backyards of high-ranking police “pushers”; porno films featuring male and female inmates, directed by Meyers himself, to be screened on the exclusive “all-cop” cable network he planned to set up.

Sounds like I’ve stumbled across a typical police crime book with a hard-boiled cop and some tough characters. The thing that makes this book stand out from a typical novel is the darkness. There’s no hope, no glimmer of light – full noir story.

The soft-voiced man snorted: “Yeah, but how the fuck are you supposed to find happily married bank managers with girlfriends on the side? You gonna put an ad in the paper:

‘Armed robber seeks cooperative pussy-hound bank managers to aid him in career advancement? Send résumé to blah, blah, blah?’ Typical nigger bullshit and jive.”

“Wrong, bro,” the deep-voiced man said. “I don’t know how he got the info, but the black guy had two jobs cased—righteous rogue bank managers, girlfriends, the whole shot.”

Billed as “A Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins Novel of Suspense,” it’s the finale in a trilogy starring a brilliant but morally casual police investigator with decided emotional, sexual and violence issues. I mean, crooks and other cops all call him “Crazy Lloyd Hopkins.” Yeah. In this one, he tries to solve a couple of bank robberies. While trying to save his job. And fix his broken marriage. The usual stuff. It’s better than the previous Hopkins novel, the tedious “Because the Night,” and more accessible than Ellroy’s later stuff, but still florid and overwrought, and the patter — cops are “pigs” and “fuzz” and women are “bimbos” — often seems more trite than snappy. For hardcore Ellroy fans only.

Tags: ,