In “Dick Contino’s Blues,” a novella inspired by the real-life entertainer, a serial killer on the loose in West Hollywood gets tangled up with a fake kidnapping; the collection also includes five stories of corrupt cops, goons with guns, and mobsters, all set in the fading glory of 1950s Los Angeles
Nobody plays accordion like Dick Contino. His skilled fingers can find beauty in even the schmaltziest borscht belt favorites, and with his matinee-idol looks he could be a real star. Right now, though, he’s slumming it as the headliner in a Grade Z teenybopper picture called Daddy-O. He’s too good for this movie, and finishing it is going to take him to a very dark place. Daddy-O and Dick Contino are both real, their stories dredged out of the past by James Ellroy, a master of historical crime fiction. In Dick Contino’s Blues he takes us to B-List Hollywood in 1957—a time when movies were cheerful and dirty secrets lurked just off camera. Included along with the novella are five short stories, all in the author’s inimitable tough-bitten style.
Ellroy's clipped and compelling noir realism, so effectively plied in such novels as L.A . Confidential and The Black Dahlia , shows itself to comparable advantage in short form here. The pick of the collection is ``Dick Contino's Blues,'' the longest of the six previously published stories. Adrift in the hazy Hollywood '50s, accordion king Contino wades through nightclub gigs, broads, scandal and auto shows while saving a girl from ``pinko'' influences and from a publicity-grabbing fake kidnapping that unfortunately coincides with a serial killer's rampage-in-progress. Ellroy's rat-a-tat style expands slightly in ``High Darktown,'' where an L.A. cop and former boxer follows an old enemy to a brutally violent resolution--while most of L.A. celebrates the end of WW II. In a foreword that exhibits the same high-heat style, Ellroy refers to the uneasy realities that underscore his prose, including his mother's unsolved 1958 murder in the City of Angels. Ellroy's narratives and approach aren't likely to please fans of clever-cat or subtle-English-spinster cozies, but he's required reading for those who take their crime fiction gritty, dark and a few degrees below boiling.