James Elroy: “Public Panic” – Confessions of a “Hollywood Fixer” in Purgatory

James Ellroy: “General Banek” (Photo: (c) Marion Ettlinger, book cover: Olstein Verlag)

Farid Atash is a “Hollywood Wizard”, who solves problems for the rich and powerful, using blackmail and violence if necessary. His motto: “I do everything but kill, I work for everyone but the communists.” He does not always take both principles seriously. But now he got thirsty, died brewing in purgatory, and was given one last chance:

“There is heaven for the good people and hell for the bad. And torment for men like me – strange bastards who have exploited the weakness of a sick system and brought misfortune to others. Now my clever jailers offer me a deal: write your life’s shameful journey. Get rid of the truth and nothing but the truth. Hold on to nothing and head to heaven. “.

Confession of a blackmailer and a violent criminal

So James Elroy heard Fred Attash’s confession. By the way, this already exists. He lived from 1922 to 1992 and was a notorious figure in the United States. He has been embroiled in many scandals and is known to seek out embarrassing details from the private lives of screen greats:

“My miserable sins race through synapses a million times. Fred Attash: Rogue cop, private investigator, silent money extortionist. The demonic god of the machine for his miserable age. I was the hell dog that Hollywood had completely subdued. You were the man who knew all those sick sexual secrets that Take care of it, you crazy people.”

Otash appears in a number of films, including being a role model for a private intrusion into Polanski’s Chinatown. In 1976 he wrote his memoirs, which are now available only at fantastic prices. Elroy skillfully mixes fantasy and reality in his novel.

Hollywood celebrity misbehavior and bedtime stories

Celebrities appear in the ranks, and Fred Atash has all sorts of saucy things to report in his confessions. Otach gets drugs and women for JFK, shares a bed with Liz Taylor, preferably on a team with his girlfriend Joey. It is said that Burt Lancaster tortured prostitutes for money. Rock Hudson appears as a well-mannered character, as the Otash Shams enters a woman on behalf of the studio to cover up Hudson’s homosexuality. This last story seems to be based on the truth, by the way, because the real Otach was already involved in such a deal. Other than that, one would be surprised that Ellroy never had any issues with the PSA – with all that allowed his protagonists to say about famous movie greats.

The allure of sex and violence

However, the author may overestimate the interest of today’s readers in real or imagined sexual stories of long-dead stars. If it’s not sex, violence is the preferred topic:

Blackjack made him plump. Layers of napping opened his face. The weighted tip of the punch took an eyebrow at him and broke his nose. I grabbed his neck and prevented him from screaming. A deep frying pan stood a few steps away. With hot grease and Lyonnaise-style fries, I dragged him. I grabbed his hand with the fat and burned it to the bone.”

Always on whiskey and speed, Otash starts a thriving blackmail business with his girlfriend Joi. James Dean is one of his employees and is associated with wives who are being blackmailed or provide grounds for divorce. Atash got an offer from the filthy Al-Siriyah newspaper to systematically put his practices at the service of scandalous journalism.

“Secrecy has been the wonderful grail of our traumatized generation. Disappointment means enlightenment. Secret truths circulated and outcast hypocrites. A profound moral mission. The Meshuggene Magna Carta for our weary and fractured age.”

Many scenes of the plot

For a long time, the novel continued as a series of powerful scenes, with thousands of names, known and unknown. Only in the middle of the book does a plot appear, it is about a murder in the communist milieu. The second plot brings the true story of perverted rapist Karel Witter Cheesman, who was executed in 1960, regarding the criminal intrigue surrounding James Dean’s biggest movie success “Because They Don’t Know What They’re Doing.” Its director, Nicholas Ray, is portrayed as a mad manipulator and communist who commits murder and rape to endorse another film project.

The whole thing is always kept in the same mature and sarcastic language. Since he’s the voice of sexual communist gluttony, that’s understandable. However, in the long run, this approach becomes a dead end because it allows some language modification. Even if we take that into account, macho rhetoric will still glorify sex and violence on paper. Especially since Ellroy is more and more attributing the classic film format the protagonist to the protagonist as the book progresses – a hard shell, a soft core. Atash is almost given the moral integrity as an avenger of injured women whose murders ultimately only serve justice. It may be in keeping with American Western morals, but it leaves a bad taste. In general, the latest novel by successful author Elroy makes a somewhat mixed impression.

James Elroy: “Public Panic”
Translated from the English by Stephen Trey
Olstein Verlag, Berlin. 432 pages, 26 euros.

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