• In True Detective, the war-scarred highway cop Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitch, is ashamed of and tries to repress his homosexuality. In Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere – the Reddit user noticed – a character called Danny Upshaw similarly struggles with his sexual identity.
Taylor Kitsch, right, plays Paul Woodrugh, a repressed homosexual cop and war veteran (Photo: HBO)
• The gruesome way in which Nic Pizzolatto has his murder victims die mimics Ellroy’s novel, according to the Reddit user: “How could I forget that the first victim in The Big Nowhere also had his eyes removed and genitals mutilated!?”
• Where killers in both seasons of True Detective have worn animal masks – the second season's murderer has been seen sporting a crow's head mark – the killer in The Big Nowhere becomes known as the 'Wolverine Killer' because of the wolf mask he wears.
• In True Detective, there is a creepy plastic surgeon who operates on high-class prostitutes for a corrupt businessman. Plastic surgery performed on call girls is a recurring theme in Ellroy's books.
It wasn’t long before other users contributed to the discussion, with some applying the Ellroy compassion to the Louisiana-based first season of the show: “One of the most consistent themes in Ellroy's stuff is the idea that sometimes the bad man is the right detective for the job,” said one. “Rust [Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey] echoes this idea during one of his conversations with Marty [Hart, played by Woody Harrelson] in season 1, stating that ‘the world needs bad men’.”
Though this may well be the first time all of these suspicions have been gathered in one place, the Reddit thread seems to voice a general internet feeling: viewers of the second season of the show have been pointing out Ellroy similarities since its airing in June on social media:
But other Reddit users on the thread have defended the show, suggesting it could be the True Detective screenwriter paying homage to the venerable LA Confidential author, with Ellroy allusions aimed at involved fans of that writer’s novels as well as of the television show:
“Could this be a bait and switch? He learned with the last season that he has a fanbase of supersleuth's [sic]”, said one user.
Another said: “I would guess that about 0.002% of TD viewers have read those books so the references are probably too obscure to be red herrings. Probably he just digs Ellroy and may have put them in there as a sort of tip of the hat.”
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Nic Pizzolatto himself admitted to admiring the works of Ellroy in a 2013 interview with nola.com, saying that he shared what he believed to be the writer’s ethos of approaching a character-driven story through a crime narrative. “The genre was just this clothesline for me to hang all my usual writerly obsessions on. That's OK with me, because I love this genre, and I really enjoy a good crime novel…. James Ellroy writes social novels, Dennis Lehane writes social novels. George Pelecanos writes social novels.”
James Ellroy, in full Lee Earle Ellroy, (born March 4, 1948, Los Angeles, California, U.S.), American author known for his best-selling crime and detective novels that examine sinister eras of modern American history, especially police corruption in Los Angeles in the 1940s.
Ellroy’s parents divorced in 1954, and he moved with his mother to El Monte, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. In 1958 his mother was murdered there, a crime that was never solved. In his autobiographical My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir (1996) and The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women (2010), Ellroy wrote about the crime and its effect on his life. After his mother’s death, he lived with his father. He attended high school in Fairfax, a section of Los Angeles, but was expelled before graduation. He then enlisted in the army but soon decided that he did not belong there and convinced an army psychiatrist that he was not mentally fit for combat. After three months he received a dishonourable discharge. Soon afterward his father died, and, after a brief stay with a friend of his father, Ellroy landed on the streets of Los Angeles. From age 18 he lived in parks and vacant apartments; he spent most of his time drinking, taking drugs, and reading crime novels. After being jailed for breaking into a vacant apartment, Ellroy got a job at a bookstore. Meanwhile, he had become addicted to Benzedrex. With his health deteriorating and fearing for his sanity, Ellroy joined Alcoholics Anonymous and found steady work as a golf caddy. At age 30 he wrote and sold his first novel, Brown’s Requiem (1981; film 1998).
Most of Ellroy’s books deal with crime and corruption. Among the best known are the four novels that constitute his first L.A. Quartet series: Black Dahlia (1987; film 2006), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990; film 1997), and White Jazz (1992). Perfidia (2014) was the first volume in his second L.A. Quartet. The novel, which chronologically precedes the events of the earlier series, features many of the same characters and evokes a similarly penumbral view of Los Angeles.
Ellroy emerged into mainstream fiction with the publication of the first novel in his Underworld U.S.A. trilogy, American Tabloid (1995), which treats the years 1958–63, ending with the assassination of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy. Its sequel, The Cold Six Thousand (2001), covers the turbulent years between the president’s assassination and that of his brother Robert in 1968. The final volume of the trilogy, Blood’s a Rover (2009), examines the years 1968–72. The trilogy represents the author’s expressed ambition to “re-create 20th-century American history through fiction.”