It's November 1963, and Wayne Tedrow, Jr., a Las Vegas cop, is given $6,000 and sent to Dallas with instructions to make sure a pimp named Wendell Durfee pays the price for knifing a blackjack dealer. A relatively straight cop from a corrupt city, Tedrow is on his way to ground zero of a pivotal event in American history.
But The Cold Six Thousand isn't about Wayne Tedrow's little errand; it's about the men Tedrow meets, the men who really murdered JFK the assassins, their confidants, their paymasters, their bosses. It's about men with the hubris to think that people and events can be manipulated for their own personal ends, whether they are motivated by greed or idealism or the sheer lust for power.
Author James Ellroy has covered this ground before in his novels of the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles like White Jazz and L.A. Confidential. The Cold Six Thousand is a sequel to his critically acclaimed novel American Tabloid, and many of the characters from that book show up here. Ward Littell, late of the FBI, and Pete Bonderant, ex-cop, CIA asset and killer, wheel and deal with the likes of Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover and Floyd Patterson. History moves with lightning speed in the 1960s, and in Ellroy's fictional world, those who don't like the way it's moving plot to change its course, on the beaches of Cuba, the streets of Las Vegas and even in the jungles of Vietnam. Some warnings are warranted. The Cold Six Thousand is not a pretty book. The language is foul; the sex is careless; the violence is explicit; and the racism is disturbing in short, it's a painful mirror of the era. The good guys don't win because there are no good guys, just a lot of black with a few shades of gray. Ellroy's trademark staccato prose style reaches new crescendos. At times it's almost like a tone poem or a '50s beat rap.
It would be nice to think that James Ellroy is wrong, that history isn't really made by the greedy and the ugly and the amoral. But The Cold Six Thousand provides a graphic glimpse of how things worked back in the '60s, and our nation hasn't been the same since that turbulent era.
James Neal Webb can remember where he was when John F. Kennedy died.