First published in 1984, Because The Night represents the second part of James Ellroy’s Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy, along with Blood on the Moon and Suicide Hill. This is a trademark Ellroy novel - intricate, bloody, twist-laden – made all the more believable with the knowledge that it is only as extraordinary as the author’s own incident-packed, crazy life.
Lloyd, our protagonist and anti-hero, finds himself at the center of a seemingly motiveless liquor store shooting that leaves three people dead and little reason why. With only the make of the getaway car and second-hand information from his underground grasses to go on, Lloyd slowly unravels a tangled web of suspense and intrigue leading to the door of Dr John Havilland, the so-called “Night Tripper” - a brilliant psychoanalyst who, unbeknownst to Lloyd, is using his position as a trusted doctor to gather a small army of rich disaffected youths, corrupting their minds to make them follow his every command.
Havilland’s uses these minions to right the wrongs of his own dark past and, in particular, the one terrible event that changed him forever. For this privilege, he charges his clients serious green; they, having finally found someone who understands them, readily hand over the cash. What follows is an exploration of the utmost limits of the human psyche and a study into the limits and boundaries of true blind faith, climaxing in an inevitably bloody end.
The danger with most so-called “detective novels” is that they can easily fall into the trap of same-old, same-old. What is unique about Ellroy, as most aficionados already know, is his rare ability to transcend genres and produce protagonists and plots that cannot really be pinned down with a few simple explanatory words. Someone like Chandler’s Marlowe saw only black and white in the criminal world, but while they share a certain “means justifies the end” attribute, the central character of Hopkins is a flawed genius, a man who sacrificed his marriage to over-involve himself in his work, someone who has his own version of justice and is not afraid to tread outside the law to enforce this. Apart from Hopkins, the rest of the cast are equally as individual and complex, although it is in the evil Dr. Havilland that we find the best exponent of these characteristics, his persona edifying deeper and more disturbing levels the more we read – Harold Shipman had nothing on this guy!
“Are you ready to hurt and twist and loathe and gouge the woman who ruined you as a child?” the Night Tripper hissed. “Are you ready to go as far as you can go? Are you ready to enter a realm of pure power and relegate the rest of the world to the sh*t heap that it really is?”The plot is none too shabby either, but then you probably wouldn’t expect anything less from the author of such behemoths as L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia. For Ellroy fans, it is typical indulgence. If, on the other hand, the closest you’ve ever come to his work is drooling over Russell Crowe wrestling with Kim Basinger on the big screen, then give it a try.
“Yes.” Richard Oldfield sobbed.