Picking off right where Perfidia left off (literally - This Storm begins the very next day), This Storm sees four major characters dealing with the aftermath of the first novel's events. Dudley Smith, the Big Bad of the original LA Quartet, is recovering from Kay Lake's attempted assassination and preparing for his Army Intelligence posting in Mexico.
Hideo Ashida's Face–Heel Turn at the end of Perfidia has bought him Dudley's loyalty, protection from internment and a suite at the Biltmore Hotel for him and his family. Now thoroughly under Dudley's thumb and deeply in love with the Corrupt Cop, Ashida is dealing with his guilt over his role in the framing of Ax-Crazy (but innocent) drug addict Fujio Shudo for the murder of the Watanabe family.
Joan Conville, briefly seen in Perfidia as the distant object of Bill Parker's unhealthy obsession, causes a fatal accident while driving drunk. But she catches a break - Parker buries the charges and brings Joan on-board with the LAPD as a forensic scientist.
And then there's Sergeant Elmer Jackson, a corrupt cop who almost qualifies as a decent guy by the standards of the 1940's LAPD. Like Ashida, he's under Dudley's thumb. Unlike Ashida, he thoroughly loathes Dudley and he's looking for a way to finally get rid of the infamous Irish cop.
When a massive rainstorm turns up a decade-old body buried on the site of a future golf course, on which Hideo discovers a small gold nugget, he, Dudley and Joan begin a private investigation into a famous gold heist from the early 30's. The three soon grow obsessed with the gold, an obsession that becomes even more dangerous once their investigation is overtaken by - and intertwined with - the murder of two racist cops at an LA drug den.
When not searching for lost gold, Dudley spirals deeper and deeper into a drug-addled fantasy life in Mexico, where he tries to run a string of rackets while forging an alliance with Mexican fascists, some of whom have a mysterious connection to the missing gold.
This Novel Contains Examples Of:
- Amazon Chaser: Joan is 6'0 with red hair, and just about every man in the novel falls madly in love with her. The one exception is Hideo, who's a (closeted) gay man.
- Boom, Headshot!: Buzz Meeks repeatedly shoots Tommy Glennon in the face. This is one of Ellroy's favorite tropes, really.
- Canon Welding: Continues Perfidia's attempt to weld together the original LA Quartet and The Underworld Trilogy. Joan Klein, who played a major role in Blood's a Rover, is a significant side character in this novel.
- Decoy Protagonist: Joan seems intended as the novel's breakout character, as she's the only point of view character who's entirely unfamiliar to the readers. Then she's Driven to Suicide (see below for the details).
- Driven to Suicide: Joan deliberately overdoses on terpin hydrate once she discovers that her drunk driving accident killed two children who were hidden in the trunk of the car she hit.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Dudley cradles Hideo's body and weeps inconsolably after the latter is accidentally killed in an attempt on Dudley's life. Notably the scene is shown from the perspective of Elmer Jackson who absolutely despises Dudley.
- Even Evil Has Standards: In his negotiations with Salvador Abascal over their scheme to ship Japanese and Mexican workers into California as slaves, Dudley firmly insists that Abascal - a fascist with no love for the United States - conduct no operations on American soil or kill Americans. Abascal gives Dudley his solemn promise. He lied.
- Fiery Redhead: Joan can give as good as she gets with the hard-drinking cops of the LAPD.
- Fling a Light into the Future: Joan mails her diary to Kay, providing her with the information she needs to (try to) bring down Dudley.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Bill Parker, the closest thing to a "hero" so far in the new LA Quartet, was obsessed with Joan going back to a chance encounter in Chicago years before.
- Heroic Sacrifice: For a given definition of "heroic," at least. Hideo shields Dudley in the middle of a shootout and takes the bullets meant for Smith.
- Karma Houdini: Dudley's schemes all fail, and he suffers some humiliation as a result. But for someone who essentially became a fascist while serving with the US Army, grew addicted to multiple drugs, went AWOL, participated in a smuggling scheme that resulted in sabotage and the deaths of multiple Americans (albeit without Dudley's knowledge) and started a shootout at an LA nightclub, he ends up in a pretty good place - drying out at a fancy rehab clinic, free of his Army obligations and guaranteed his old job at the LAPD.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Buzz and Elmer hold back some information they beat out of a suspect, thinking they could use it to bring down Dudley. But by failing to share it, they (unintentionally) allow saboteurs smuggled into southern California to commit an act of sabotage and kill seven Americans. Elmer is pretty horrified at the realization.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Leander Flechette, who played a significant role in the gold heist, pretended to be simple-minded so that people wouldn't take him seriously. It helps that he was a black man in the 30's and everyone was well-primed to consider him stupid.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: A lot of characters deliver a lot of these speeches:
- Kay Lake berates Bill Parker and blames him for Joan's suicide. She even punches him right in the face. Amusingly, she's actually deeply in love with Parker and the two start an affair not long after.
- Dudley gets a bunch of these speeches toward the end of the novel, when he's perpetually high on morphine, opium or cocaine and he's gone more or less full fascist. Claire De Haven excoriates him, as does his lover Constanza.
- Kay basically becomes a full-time deliverer of The Reason You Suck Speeches toward the end of the book. She forges a letter to Dudley from Claire that lays out all of his flaws and sends him over the edge. She writes a letter to Hideo urging him to give up on his doomed love for Dudley and turn on the cop. And she considers (though doesn't actually send) writing Dudley two more letters "from" his illegitimate daughter Elizabeth Short and Joan Klein repeating the Claire play.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Kay, carrying over her grudge against Dudley from Perfidia, joins with Parker, Meeks and Jackson in trying to destroy Dudley after Joan's suicide.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Multiple characters spend the entire novel obsessing over the gold stash stolen from a train in the 30's and trying to figure out where it is. Turns out the gold was in Switzerland the whole time and completely out of the characters' reach.