Review: James Ellroy – Killer on the Road

It’s been years since I read an Ellroy novel. However, as I’ve booked tickets to see himJames Ellroy in November, I wanted to do some catching up. His latest book, Perfidia, is out now. I’ll be reading it in the next couple of weeks as Barry Forshaw has given it a very interesting review in The Independent. However, Killer on the Road had been on my list to read for a while so this seemed the logical place to start before tackling Perfidia. Reading one of Ellroy’s earlier books, it was a reminder of why I liked his writing in the first place despite finding his work a perennially uncomfortable read.

Martin Michael Plunkett is a famous serial killer finally captured for the murders of four members of a family. While admitting these killings, investigators from various US states are convinced he is responsible for a decade long slay of violence. When he announces that he is writing his memoirs Plunkett, who sees himself as the ‘shape shifter’, finally reveals the tortured mind that leads him to the path of terror.

Serial killers are somewhat old hat now and yet this book, written in 1999, has managed to retain its freshness. Part of it is the clinical nature of Ellroy’s writing. We get a mix of forms of prose: straightforward narrative, diary entries, press clippings and, therefore, various points of view. But it’s the insight into Plunkett’s mind that provides much of the grisly fascination to the reader. Genuinely disturbed, there is nothing to redeem the character and we watch in horror as the killings span the decade of the 1970s.

But this is more than a psychological thriller. There are a couple of nice plot twists and the reader is often well ahead of law enforcement agencies. The blurb on the front of the book quotes Jonathan Kellerman stating this is the scariest book he’s ever read. It had me wanting to check under the bed while I was reading it. Classic Ellroy.