I just finished re-reading The Cold Six Thousand
the sequel to one of my favorite books, American Tabloid.
In American Tabloid three low level mob hangers on slowly, over the course of several years, get manipulated into a position where they have no choice but to kill John F. Kennedy. What makes Tabloid wonderful is that James Ellroy makes it obvious from the start that this is where the book is going. That means that you look at every fuck up they make and every rogue operation they get sucked into differently than you would otherwise. You are able to see how they are slowly brought to doing something extraordinary even though they are very ordinary people.
The Cold Six Thousand begins that day in Dallas roughly a half hour after Jack's been shot. Oswald is still on the run, Hoover is instructing agents to make sure a "lone gunman" theory sticks and our protagonists can't really believe they pulled it off.
Fairly quickly the mob eliminates everyone connected to the hit, except for two of the characters from American Tabloid. They are told that they are being kept alive because they might be "useful" in the future.
They have no idea what that means, but as a reader you know that a couple years later two more people who pissed off the mob were taken out by "lone gunmen" and that the mob probably figures they need to keep people who know how to pull of that kind of job around.
So, again, the book takes you through the darkness of inevitability. When they brush shoulders with Martin Luther King and Booby Kennedy we, the readers, know they'll eventually kill them. The characters don't know this, so we are forced to helplessly watch their path of doom.
What sucks is that at some level and at different times they sorta like MLK and Bobby. But that can't stop fate.
Along the way they'll spend time in Vietnam running heroin back to Las Vegas, try to run guns and right wing militants into Cuba to "chop off The Beard", will enforce mob rules in Las Vegas and for a while get sucked into both sides of the Civil Rights Movement (various events have them both starting their own for-profit KKK clans and also working with the FBI to clamp down on KKK activity.)
Nobody comes off well in The Cold Six Thousand. Whether it's Hoover secretly videotaping MLK with young white women, or Sam Giancanna running to Mexico because he's scared of the grand jury or even Bobby Kennedy, who deep down knows the mob killed his brother, but doesn't have the balls to do anything about it.
The Cold Six Thousand is the second book of a trilogy dedicated to these people and this era. It ends with Bobby's death and the next book has yet to be published. It's hard to imagine what they will be doing in it - though I suspect they might be heading to South America since the CIA has noticed their abilities to get things done.
All in all it's a wonderful book. It's not as tight as American Tabloid, but it does have more ground to cover. It can't be easy to write a book that makes you like and admire men who killed JFK, MLK and RFK.
Ellroy also does amazing and bizarre things with grammar, language, syntax and spelling. It reads more like dark poetry than a crime novel.
And it certainly doesn't leave you cold.