When James Ellroy was ten, his mother was found strangled and dumped behind some bushes in El Monte, a low-rent suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After his father's death a few years later, Ellroy spent a decade as a boozing, doping, paperback-skimming transient arrested some thirty times for drinking, shoplifting, and house-breaking.
In 1977 he sobered up and two years later sold his first crime novel, Brown's Requiem. Ellroy hit his stride in 1987 with The Black Dahlia: consciously playing out the parallels between the famous 1947 murder of would-be actress Elizabeth Short and that of his own mother, Dahlia kicked off the novelist's Los Angeles Quartet, stylized and violent books that interwove real characters from the Hollywood demimonde with tortured authority figures. (A movie adaptation of L.A. Confidential, starring Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger & Danny DeVito, was released in 1997 to positive reviews.) His tenth novel, 1995's American Tabloid, was a feverish celebration of the behind-the-scenes "bad men" who engineered Kennedy-era history.