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Literature / White Jazz

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1992 novel by James Ellroy and the final book in his first LA Quartet.

David Douglas Klein is an LAPD detective who moonlights as an assassin for several Los Angeles organized crime syndicates. In the looming shadow of a federal investigation in to the endemic corruption in the LAPD, a routine burglary investigation soon drags Klein into the nightmarish intersection of law enforcement, crime, and Hollywood at the close of the 1950s.


A sequel to L.A. Confidential, as one of its major narrative elements is the power struggle between Ed Exley and Dudley Smith for the soul of the LAPD, with Klein caught in the middle.

Tropes used in this book:

  • Arc Words: EYEBALL MAN!
  • Beige Prose: Originally 700 pages long, the publisher asked Ellroy to make it shorter. He responded by removing every word that could be considered the slightest bit superfluous.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Klein and his sister, Meg, slept together on one occasion. Meg stopped those feelings, David has not.
    • The Kafesjian and Herrick families have a rather complex example of this going on. Both married couples were cheating on each other, with each other - Mrs. Herrick with Mr. Kafesjian, Mrs. Kafesjian with Mr. Herrick. As a result, the parentage of their children is ambiguous. Philip, the Herricks' son, is in love with Kafesjian daughter Lucille, but refuses to touch her because she might be his half-sister. Meanwhile Tommy, the Kafesjians' son, is at the very least Lucille's half-brother, but sexually abuses her anyway. This all ends in tragedy for everyone involved.
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  • Dirty Cop: Almost every major character, and most of the supporting cast
  • Evil Versus Evil: Dudley Smith and David Klein
  • Eye Scream
  • Genius Bruiser: David Klein is a corrupt police lieutenant who acts as muscle when needed, earning a reputation to the point that his nickname is "the enforcer". He's also legally an attorney, having passed the bar exam. The fast-paced prose of the novel itself perfectly displays his quick thinking and self-awareness.
  • Genre Shift: Ends up in some very strange places for a book that starts out as a hard boiled detective novel.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: After getting away scot free in his previous two appearances, Dudley Smith gets a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that leaves him with brain damage and one eye.
  • Katanas Are Better: David has one after his service in the Pacific. He uses it to kill Johnny Duhamel.
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  • The Stoic: The Ed Exley of L.A. Confidential is shrewd and calculating, but not without emotion and unplanned expressions of passion. In White Jazz, set several years after LA Confidential, Exley, as seen through Klein's eyes, is so cold that he's barely human. It's implied that the events of the earlier novel, and Exley's unrelenting crusade to take down Dudley Smith, have sapped him of his humanity.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: After the events of L.A. Confidential, Ed Exley is far more bitter to police work.