WIDESPREAD PANIC by author James Ellroy chronicles the life and times of Freddy Otash who is a character from several of the author’s previous novels, and he’s an interesting (albeit somewhat despicable) character who has the dirt on everyone and uses it to his advantage, and also to the advantage of those he finds himself indebted to, often placing himself and those he’s involved with in serious danger.
Freddy has great success using his special set of skills to affect the public image of countless individuals in government, movie and music personalities, and anyone else of note that he can strong arm or otherwise intimidate to fit his narrative, with the end result being the only concern regardless of the damage done to others.. but eventually finds himself in serious trouble and can only survive by serving the interests of the man he’s forced to work for.
Can Freddy survive the situation he’s found himself in, and if so will he be able to continue his surveillance and spin doctor schemes to further line his pockets?
I’ve read several books by author Ellroy who often uses an unusual style that uses thoughts of characters written in a rapid fragmentation that is effective, but at times difficult to stay with due to the dark subject matter which at times feels like he’s found out about things that take place behind the scenes that change the face of history, and if exposed would paint most public figures as debased and depraved, which makes me wonder about how much of this could actually exist in our history, and what it means about who we are as people and what lengths those in power will go to regardless of the bodies left along the way.
Not for the faint of heart or for those easily offended, which is true of most of the author’s previous novels.
Mr. Ellroy tells the fictional account of Mr. Fred Otash, goon, cop, fixer, and purveyor of Hollywood's stars' secrets. Who hates whom, who is sleeping with whom. Mr. Ellroy inhabits Otash rather than Otash inhabits the author. Ellroy has created a persona all his own and has assumed the voice of a 1950s sleaze journalist. Well done sir.
Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for the early copy of this novel by one of my favorite writers.
Widespread Panic is the story of Freddy Otash, who has appeared as a bit character in a few other Ellroy novels. When the novel starts, he is dead, but telling his story even so. He was an LA cop, who ended up becoming a fixer, working on and off with the LAPD, and variously for other unsavories, as so many of Ellroy;s characters do.
I have read almost all of Ellroy's novels, and have enjoyed/loved just about all of them. Widespread Panic was different for me - I simply could not figure out why we were reading THIS story. Why was it important for Ellroy to tell Otash's story, which by his standards, is not that interesting or different from so many of is other protagonists?
Widespread Panic was a miss for me, unfortunately.
I was sent a copy of this book by NetGalley. I am a big James Elroy fan and have followed him from the very beginning of his career. This latest addition is no disappointment to his body of work--but warning to new readers-- His style of writing has gone form straight-forward prose to a more machine-gun delivery. However, all covers his subjects well and delivers a good story, Highly recommended.
I was confused when I started reading it and now that I am done, I can`t lie cause I am still
fucking confused. This is more like a compilation of short stories happening in Hollywood back
then. I can`t fathom the connection between chapters.
What I can only understand is Freddy Otash is a person who can determine what is bad or
good. He is a man of actions and had been almost involved in every crime back when he is still
alive solving those heinous crimes done by corrupt people.
A lot of things are new to me so I had a lot of research just to understand some topics in this
book. and even though I had done that I am still left figuring out and convincing myself that this
is a novel. Sadly, the genre I love would leave me with these kinds of thoughts, maybe this book
is not really for me. I still appreciate though how it was written, it was a unique, truly one-of-a-
kind book that maybe only a few can appreciate.
WIDESPREAD PANIC is not so much a reading experience as an immersion into a time (the 1950s) and place (Los Angeles) where the beholder surrenders to the experience, with the result that the world in the book seems more real than the present. Author James Ellroy has no filter and as a result what the reader experiences is as real as it gets. There is a conundrum in play here, given that the events described by Ellroy become more real by virtue of his (occasional) exaggeration in a work that is ostensibly historical fiction. Even the prose which Ellroy spits out staccato-style for WIDESPREAD PANIC is more than what it appears to be. One can almost hear the clicking of a keyboard or typewriter. Ellroy, however, writes with pen and paper, somehow turning jazz hard bop into prose. If this is what Jack Kerouac and the other so-called beat poets were attempting to do, reading a couple of pages of WIDESPREAD PANIC demonstrates that they failed. Ellroy’s sentences are (usually) short and loaded with alliteration even as they are cringe-inducing in content and description, designed to elicit enough cuts and bruises to exhaust a giant box of wholesale club bandages. In WIDESPREAD PANIC they trample the reader and then drag him merrily along.
Let’s visit for just a second about what WIDESPREAD PANIC is not. Those expecting the third volume of the second L.A. Quartet (after PERFIDIA and THIS STORM) will instead find the posthumously written (and fictional) autobiography of Fred Otash narrated as the man himself resides in Purgatory where he is intermittently visited and violated by those he wronged during his life. One, after reading WIDESPREAD PANIC, can envision the line of such individuals stretching down a hallway and out a door. As with most of Ellroy’s characters, Otash actually existed in what we like to call our real world. He ran a detective agency that did investigative work for Confidential magazine, which printed tawdry and scandalous stories about the glamorous, rich, and famous. There was a time in the mid-twentieth century when one could find the latest copy of Confidential in virtually any household one entered. I can remember having a copy yanked out of my five-year-old hands after I found one in my grandmother’s magazine rack. Readers of Ellroy’s previous work will remember Otash from THE COLD SIX THOUSAND and BLOOD’S A ROVER, which were both a part of Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy, as well as SHAKEDOWN, a novella which is the basis for the first third of WIDESPREAD PANIC. Otash within the pages of WIDESPREAD PANIC is given to full, ungoverned vent, as we might expect.
WIDESPREAD PANIC is written by Otash in 2020 but, other than for a vignette on the day of his death in 1992, takes place primarily between 1952 and 1960. We follow Otash as he demonstrates a proclivity for using virtually every illicit opportunity he can as an LAPD cop who has a variety of outside income streams ranging from extortion and procuring to drug dealing and strong-arm robbery. He is ultimately bounced from the force by a new police chief who has before getting bounced from the force vowed to clean up corruption, but is barely out the door before he acquires a private investigator’s license by, of course, using a shortcut. He then picks up where he left off before hooking up vocationally with Confidential. Otash is haunted, however, by a murder which he committed while with the LAPD, so much so that he anonymously pays the victim’s widow a monthly stipend while worshipping her from afar. When she is murdered and the case remains unsolved, Otash begins his own investigation, even as he digs up dirt on the rich, famous, and worshipped in politics and show business, an activity which causes the circulation of Confidential to reach stratospheric heights. The stories --- particularly those that never saw the light of day --- are graphic, shocking, and in many cases hilarious, particularly if one is familiar with politicians and film stars of the 1940s and 1950s. There might have been a problem publishing those stories when the principals were alive. As far as Ellroy and WIDESPREAD PANIC are concerned in the here and now, the stories appear in a work of fiction in which everyone mentioned is deceased, from John Kennedy to John Wayne and from James Dean to Carl Chessman. The language and topics seem shocking in this era of woke (as well as the month of publication of WIDESPREAD PANIC! Oh, the humanity!), but I doubt that Ellroy, bless him, cares. He should not.
WIDESPREAD PANIC is a bit over 300 pages but seems longer and deeper (yes, I phrased it that way on purpose) in all of the best ways. No punches are pulled and no literary expense is spared. Just to prove that too much of a good thing does not exist, Ellroy, it is said, is working on a sequel to WIDESPREAD PANIC. Please, Sir. Write quickly. And don’t forget Bob Crane.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
© Copyright 2021, The Book Report, Inc. All rights reserved.
Hooray ! Everybody’s favorite purveyor of perv crime fiction, James Ellroy, is back with the sleazily seditious #Widespread Panic. It’s the 50’s and Freddy Otash, is going to tell all in exchange for an early release from the Crowbar Hotel. And does Otash have dirt to disseminate, for he’s an ex-cop who went on to pimp , strong arm, and write for Hollywood’s scummiest tabloid magazine, Confidential. Ellroy in the guise of Otash goes on to slander just about anyone who was famous or infamous in that glorious era. #WidespreadPanic is a book not necessarily read for it’s story, but for the verisimilitude of it’s vernacular. Have a ball kiddies.
Mr. Ellroy, is writing at the top of his L.A. noir game, as he details the sins of Fred Otash, the “Scandal Rag Scoundrel” and “undisputed autocrat of abusive alliteration.” In the novel—as in real life—Otash dies in 1992. Since then, he’s been locked away in cell 2607 of the Penance Penitentiary, where he suffers constantly at the hands of those whom he slandered or otherwise hurt in real life, as they drop by his cell with electric cattle prods. But now, as the novel begins, Freddy O’s been offered a deal . . . confess all of your sins in exchange for being released from Purgatory. It’s the proverbial ‘get out of jail free’ card and Otash goes to work at once, holding nothing back, nor leaving anything out.
The result is vintage Ellroy as the confessions and the capers start early, last long and never end. Beginning in 1950, Otash goes from being a crooked LAPD cop to an even more disreputable Private Investigator who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. And what he wants is sleaze, as he dishes the dirt for his other gig . . . gossip columnist for Confidential, a lurid, libelous and licentious morally corrupt rag that exposes communist party members, interracial relationships and the goings-on after dark of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. No one is safe and no one is spared from burglaries, illegal wiretaps or stalkings as Freddy O. creeps, crawls and slithers his way into the most intimate and sordid details of celebrity lives, then publicly exposes them. Rock Hudson, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Nick Adams, Jack Kennedy and the infamous ‘Red Light Bandit’ and stone cold killer Caryl Chessman—as well as LAPD Chief William H. Parker and many others are all featured in this late night romp down the seamy side of the street as James Ellroy puts his incredible writing talent on full display for all noir enthusiasts to read and enjoy. For those who do, it’ll be one of 2021s most memorable!
Rating 4 stars
Summary: Freddy Ottash is a fired cop and now working for a tabloid spreading lurid tales of the Hollwierd. Freddy will do anything but murder. He is a classic criminal and abuser. He is wholly unlikeable.
Comments: Much like American Psycho, this novel is full throttle nuts. Fast moving page turner. One of the craziest novels I’ve ever read.
I’m kind of going back and forth on this one.
Ellroy’s style is wonderfully in evidence here – his rapid fire patter, the oh-so-cool turn of a vintage phrase, the sheer nonchalance of violence with a smattering of racism and homophobia (his characters, not him) that blast you straight into a very hard-boiled past.
The thing is that I thought I was excited to hear Freddy Otash’s story from the man himself…until I wasn’t.
The book is equal parts glorious and exhausting. Freddy’s narcissism and braggadocio swing from humorous and endearing to irritating in a lightning flash. His stories of the sins of the Hollywood vintage elite are fun and trashy until they get a little tiresome. Eventually, they’re no longer scandalous sleaze – they’re just…more stories.
Yet, every time I thought of just stopping the read, a turn of phrase or a situation would draw me right back in.
I’d say that I enjoyed the read overall and I think that Ellroy fans will be glad they’ve read it, but I also ended it just kind of glad that Otash was done talking.
*ARC provided via Net Galley
The ghost pepper is rated 400 times hotter than tabasco sauce. Bite into a one and blame only yourself when you flame out. If you walk straight into a James Ellroy novel you should already know what is going to hit you. I love film noir and I loved the "L.A. Confidential" film, so I jumped at the opportunity to read "Widespread Panic".
Midway through I could hardly wait to get it over with and slam it as the worst thing I have read all year. The main character, Freddy Otash, is a dirty ex-cop now reporting for the sleazy tabloid Confidential. The first half is set on spreading every kind of slander, factual or not, on any recognizable celebrity of the time. Only sleazebags, addicts, perverts and rapists roam the landscape and Freddy has the dirt and has a free pass to murder or bed anyone of his choice. When there are no restraints, no limits, it gets wearying to wade through. After finishing "Widespread Panic" I tracked down some of his interviews and found that this novel was pretty typical of his style. When asked about the way he treated Orson Welles in a previous novel, Ellroy said he trashed him because he never liked him much "...and he's dead... he's not gonna sue me!"
The second half of the book actually came around to a plot, tying things together by slapping the case of serial killer Caryl Chessman into it. It was at this point that I just accepted the writing approach and tried to follow Ellroy's path. It did seem to come together a little at that point with a finish line to focus on.
I rate "Widespread Panic" two stars. If you are familiar with and savor Ellroy's body of work you may appreciate it.
Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing and Netgalley for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
A terrific read! Ellroy’s back and at ‘em! A really enthralling, jam packed novel, brilliantly paced and executed. A masterful work in every way!!
Another mad mash-up from the obsessive-compulsive madman full of mid-50's madness and mayhem. Ellroy is a brilliant writer but he has been on a one track trip for years. This demented ditty digs up old ground and becomes a parody of his past work. Fun for a while but gets tiresome very quickly.
No one brings Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the 50's to life the way the master, James Ellroy does. I have always been a fan since I first read L.A.Confidential. Hollyweird at its best and worst in the late 40's. Widespread Panic does the same with changing times of 50's Hollywood.
I couldnt put it down. You wont either! This is a Hollywood you will never forget!
My thanks to the Knopf Publishers and Netgalley for giving me the privilege of reading this book.
Ellroy is a phenomenon. I approached Widespread Panic with misgivings as I disliked Perfidia and found This Storm almost unreadable but Widespread Panic is stunning and wondrous. It’s only April but I can’t see anything coming close to this as my book of the year.
The Cold Six Thousand took several attempts to get into with its innovative spare staccato style but turned out to be his best novel so far. Widespread Panic attempts something similar and new by presenting a story which at is heart is about ‘50s Hollywood scandals written in the style of the infamous magazine, Confidential. I’ll admit the incessant alliteration and inventive slurs get on your nerves at first but it soon feels normal and suits the storyline perfectly. It’s probably Ellroy’s finest achievement as a novelist.
Widespread Panic is written as the real Freddy Otash, the discredited cop who carved out a career selling scandal to Confidential magazine.
In 2012, Ellroy published a novella called Shakedown: Freddy Otash Confesses which was revealing and enjoyable. Widespread Panic has expanded and refined it into a stunning novel that obliterates the myth of the glamour of Hollywood . Ellroy is referenced as one of his own characters as Otash retells an anecdote about Ellroy wanting to make a TV series about his life. Hope it’s true and he manages to pull it off. It won’t be diifficulr once Widespread Panic hits the stores. If Mad Men was huge then with the right casting this ought to be even more popular. HBO should snap it up.
I received a copy of this novel through netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This brought me right back into the gritty world of James Ellroy and his unforgettable characters. I found myself unable to put this novel down and was sucked in from page one. Many of the characters from previous books came out again and threw this story into hyperdrive.
Ellroy has once again won my heart with his story telling and his ability to make you feel the emotions and the suspense his characters are facing.
Absolutely loved it and will be recommending.
Ater the triumphs of BLOOD'S A ROVER and PERFIDIA (and the also entertaining if too-similar-to-its-predecessor THIS STORM), WIDESPREAD PANIC is a significant drop-off in quality for James Ellroy. It's as compulsively readable as his work usually is, but there is an unmistakable feeling that Ellroy is going through the motions with this one.
There are many reasons for this. For one, the book is more or less an expanded version of a mediocre web-only novella Ellroy released back in 2012. Two, Ellroy has already delved into the ups and downs of this book's protagonist and narrator Fred Otash-- he appears in all three books of the Underworld USA trilogy and surfaces at least briefly in WHITE JAZZ. (He also created a far more interesting mostly fictional character based on Otash in Pete Bondurant of the aforementioned trilogy.)
When we finally hear Freddy in his own voice, he sounds...well, like the trolling slang-drenched alliterative authorial voice Ellroy has largely stuck to since WHITE JAZZ. It's the most self-indulgent, unhinged version of that voice Ellroy has ever used, which is saying quite a bit. Even if it makes sense given that this book is largely about the real-life Hollywood scandal rag Confidential, it's just tiresome in this iteration. It's old news. The homophobia, racism and jingoism that permeates it is period-accurate and by all accounts in line with what Otash was like (not to mention 95% of L.A. cops in the 1950s and beyond), but at this rate it's mostly about Ellroy doing his level best to offend everyone he can because it amuses him to do so. Which is boring. Ditto his pathological obsession with skewering Hollywood sacred cows ranging from Nicholas Ray and James Dean to John Wayne. Ellroy isn't morally outraged by the hypocrisy and dirty deeds of movie stars and directors, he simply knows he'll get a reaction. Some of the stars' scandals and proclivities he highlights have been well-documented and will surprise nobody, others are made up out of whole cloth. (Which is fine, but it's worth noting the intent of such embellishment.)
Freddy is also old news: Not in the sense that he's been in other Ellroy books, but that he's another rogue cop turned PI running extortion and blackmail rackets who has--get this--hangups about murdered women. It's the most done to death trope in all of Ellroy's work, and in this iteration there's none of the pathos present in past versions of this story. He does little to explore the humanity of the killers' victims. Though, in fairness, WIDESPREAD PANIC is at its most.compelling in the stretches where the killer plotline is most prominent.
It's hard for me to review this objectively--not because I dislike Ellroy, but quite the opposite. The L.A. Quartet and Underworld USA series are both masterworks, in aggregate and as individual volumes. (The Second L.A. Quartet, when it's finished, may be another.) But WIDESPREAD PANIC is like hearing an ace musician play a hit song out of tune, or in the wrong key. It veers dangerously close to self-parody.
Thanks to NetGalley & KnopfDoubleday Publishing for providing me with a free advance copy of
this book in return for an honest review
He may be 73, but James Ellroy keeps cranking out wonderful hard-nosed LA Noir crime
novels. For a few years he seemed to have lost his edge, but this 3 rd installment of his 2 nd LA
Quartet is a wonderful read, a book that is hard to put down and for fans of his style of writing
it makes us look forward to his next effort.
Once again Ellroy features infamous LA cop Freddy Otash to give us the scoop as to the
happenings in the early 1950’s in this fictionalized look at varied topics. We have politicians,
movie stars, wannabe actors, Communists, pornography, murders, muscle, drugs, and so much
more. But much of this book is built around the Caryl Chessman kidnapping/rape/murder trials
that rocked Los Angeles for a few years.
Otash tells his story as a confession as to his part in much of this, since the book begins
over 20 years since Freddy has died and he is in Purgatory and has been told he can move on
from there if he tells the truth about what really happened in these affairs. In real life Otash
was a fixer, and with that background it allows Ellroy to spin story that is part fiction, part Otash
memoir and is able to give us a lot of “dirt” on what really went on in LA. We meet a young
James Dean, aspiring actress Lois Nettleton, Marlon Brando, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and
Senator Jack Kennedy. All come in Freddy’s orbit and each has as part to play in this saga, one in
which Otash makes things happen and is there when things fall apart.
Being close to Ellroy’s age, I know the names, the movie scandals, the tattler sheets that
Freddy helps along the way. Younger readers might not know the names, but his style of writing
will keep one and all burning the midnight oil to keep up with the action as only Otash can tell it
in a slang/hipster voice. A voice of one who was not at all adverse to doing bad deeds himself,
and then using his ill gotten money to try and make things right if that is possible.
Freddy Otash is a complicated person, a person who knows evil when he sees it and acts
on it (sometimes for tabloid magazines and other times for personal reasons). It is the heyday
of the hard-boiled LAPD. Movie studios demand results (can’t let public know Rock Hudson is
gay), tabloids pander to readers who love the lurid tales that only Hollywood seemingly can
provide, and Freddy Otash was there, was a part of it, made a lot of it happen and gives us a
first-hand, birds eye look at one the most corrupt yes fascinating periods in the history of Los
Angeles. Hold onto your seats, James Ellroy takes us for one wild ride, yet again, thanks to
Freddy Otash’s desire to free himself from Purgatory!
Though I expected the 3rd and final installment of his current trilogy I was happily surprised to see this offering which takes the reader back to Ellroy’s version of the CD 1950s in Los Angeles.
Freddy Otash was an LA cop in Private Eye his reputation still precedes him and whether truth fiction or parts of both Ellroy brings Otash to us through some of the circumstances he likely found himself connected .
What the reader wants more of will depend on how this book sits with said reader. This is only a slight linear tail the Otash saga from start to finish jumps around in time frame , it ebbs and flows like a memory that keeps the reader on his or her figurative toes but still provides a satisfying journey .
Where the author seems to take great delight is in his now classic jarring jive alliterative speak which for me a little of it goes a long way. Still, this title is pure Ellroy. If you love reading him , there is a lot to love here. If you want to start, this book as a standalone might be a good way before jumping in all Ellroy in two longer tones or series. Regardless, as always, this author offers the reader an opportunity to move into another wonderfully literate space and time.
James Ellroy crafts another suspenseful and well-polished crime story in Widespread Panic. The dialogue sizzles and propels the action, and Ellroy takes the reader on a historical trip into the 1950s. A most enjoyable story from a master of the genre.