September's Tip of the Ice Pick award goes to eccentric nouveau noir author James Ellroy (L.
A. Confidential, White Jazz) for the darkly original Destination: Morgue!. Although not a detective novel per se, Destination: Morgue! serves up more mystery and crime in 400 pages than any other three books I can think of offhand. It comprises 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for the genesis of a mystery novel. When Ellroy was 10 years old, his Hollywood party-animal mother was murdered; the perpetrator remains at large. His obsession with her death, and his subsequent immersion into the Los Angeles homicide scene, has resulted in some of the premier crime novels of his generation. Ellroy pulls no punches the milieu he portrays and the language he employs are not for the faint of heart (or stomach). His density of detail and staccato delivery are virtually unmatched in modern fiction of any genre. Of a teenage homicide investigation: It was proactive. It was reactive. It ran tangential. It ran straight ahead. It was footwork and filework and gruntwork. It was a full-fledged freak symphony. Ellroy's characters are deliciously sleazy, often even the ones who are supposedly the good guys . If you are looking for subtlety, look somewhere else; Ellroy is as subtle as a chainsaw. But fans of true detective grit as offered up by the likes of Andrew Vachss or James Crumley take note: if you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot. You won't regret it.