You are here

Biography: James Ellroy

“I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music.”

James Ellroy is one of the world’s best selling crime novelists. The author of many books, Ellroy has a dark personal history upon which he draws for inspiration. Ellroy not only epitomises noir fiction and hardboiled crime, but he also writes with a unique style about controversial political topics that has brought him world acclaim.


James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles, U.S.A., on the 4th of March 1948 and named Lee Earle Ellroy. His mother was a nurse and his father changed jobs frequently. In 1954 his parents divorced, and he moved to El Monte with his mother. She was murdered in 1958, when Ellroy was ten, and he moved in with his father.

Ellroy went to high school in Fairfax, where he set out to seek attention by espousing pro Nazi rhetoric, critisising JFK, and advocating the reintroduction of slavery. He spent most of his teen years obsessively reading crime fiction and shoplifting. Towards the end of his high school education his father suffered from a stroke and Ellroy became his caregiver.

Shortly after his father’s stroke, Ellroy was expelled for advocating Nazism. He joined the army, but worried about his father and realising that he wasn’t cut out for army life he faked a stutter, displayed himself unfit for combat, and managed to get himself a dishonourable discharge. His father died shortly after his return. Ellroy was placed in juvenile detention after getting caught stealing a steak and was placed under the guardianship of a friend’s father.

When he turned eighteen, he was turned out onto the streets and lived in parks and charity bins. He broke into girls houses, read crime novels, drank, and used drugs, particularly Benzedrex. He was jailed for breaking into empty apartments to live and got a job in an adult bookstore. His alcohol and Benzedrex use deteriorated his health to the point where he nearly developed schizophrenia, suffered post-alcohol brain syndrome, and developed severe pneumonia twice. He decided enough was enough, joined AA, got a job as a golf caddy, and wrote and sold his first novel and the age of thirty.

Ellroy currently lives in Kansas.



  • Brown’s Requiem (1981)
  • Clandestine (1982)
  • Killer on the Road (originally published as Silent Terror) (1986)

Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy

  • Blood on the Moon (1984)
  • Because the Night (1984)
  • Suicide Hill (1985)
  • L.A. Noir (omnibus edition) (1998)

L.A. Quartet

  • The Black Dahlia (1987)
  • The Big Nowhere (1988)
  • L.A. Confidential (1990)
  • White Jazz (1992)

American Underworld Trilogy

  • American Tabloid (1995)
  • The Cold Six Thousand (2001)
  • (forthcoming, and as yet untitled—but not, according to Ellroy, Police Gazette) (2007)


  • My Dark Places (autobiography) (1996)


  • Cop (1988)
  • L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • Brown’s Requiem (1998)
  • Stay Clean (2002)
  • Dark Blue (2002)
  • The Black Dahlia (2006)
  • The Night Watchman (2008)
  • Land of the Living (2008)
  • White Jazz (2009)


  • James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction (1993)
  • James Ellroy’s Feast of Death (2001)


Ellroy primarily writes crime fiction, however he also has been classed as hardboiled and also writes quite a bit of political literature.