Friday, 3 July 2015

James Ellroy and The Golden Age of Murder

Do you find the heading of this post a little...counter-intuitive? I couldn't blame you if you did. I must say that I was surprised a few months ago to receive an invitation to be a guest speaker at an academic conference on the subject of "James Ellroy - Visions of Noir" and even more surprised when I was asked to talk about The Golden Age of Murder. But they were pleasant surprises, and I readily accepted. And I'm really glad I did.

The conference, which was held on Thursday, took place in Liverpool University, in a splendid library in Abercrombie Square. The organiser, Steven Powell, is an academic, and is the author of a book about James Ellroy which will appear later this year. His wife is a fellow academic and she was among the other speakers. And a keynote address came from Woody Haut, author of (among other things, including most recently a novel, with another on the way) Heartbreak and Vine. That's a very good book, by the way, and never having met Woody before, I was delighted to have the chance to chat with him and to ask him to sign my copy.

So - Martin Edwards and James Ellroy? Detection Club archivist meets Demon Dog? Well, my enthusiasm for Golden Age books should not mask the fact that my taste in crime fiction is pretty broad, and in the late 80s and early 90s I read Ellroy's Brown's Requiem and the L.A. Quartet with a great deal of enthusiasm. When he gave a talk in Manchester, I went along,and had a brief and pleasant chat with him while, you guessed it, he signed my copies of his books. After My Dark Places, I'm afraid I lost touch with Ellroy's work, and what I heard about The Cold Six Thousand, for instance, didn't encourage me to read it. But there's no doubt.that he is a significant writer.

When Steven interviewed me about The Golden Age of Murder, I didn't attempt to draw parallels between Ellroy and the likes of Freeman Wills Crofts, but I was pleased with the reaction from the attendees, and enjoyed their questions. I was also encouraged to hear that my book is not regarded with disdain by literary academics. In fact, Steven wrote a very kind blog post about it recently. One of the reasons I'm heartened by such a response is that I'm very conscious that I'm not an academic, and my book isn't an academic text. No footnotes, and endnotes that are at least as much about fun facts as relentless detail about sources. I wasn't aiming at an academic readership at all, but it's good to know that even those whose approach to literature is rather more sophisticated than mine can find plenty to enjoy in the story of the Detection Club's early days.

The day ended splendidly with a meal in one of Liverpool's snazzier restaurants. I was glad to chat with people from distant parts - a German expert on Ellroy who kindly presented me with a copy of her book about his work, and a Brazilian academic who is another Ellroy expert. My warmest congratulations to the Powells for organising it all so well, and I look forward to talking more about Steven's book in the autumn.


Steven said...

Thank you so much for coming Martin and making it a wonderful event.

Martin Edwards said...

My pleasure, Steven. It was good to meet you both.

Anonymous said...

I am an arm chair devotee of crime fiction. I am neither academic or literary, although I've scribbled a few stories for self-healing purposes. I love in Chicago and am consumed by my vocation but would welcome a the opportunity to attend a conference solar to what you describe. How can one find details, let alone become aware of said gatherings?

Martin Edwards said...

Hello, Anon. There are plenty of big festivals in the US - Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Magna cum Murder etc - as well as smaller ones like the Ellroy conference. You can find details of the major ones on their websites, and Google alerts are also worth a try.