On the surface, the court-appointed case that lands on young Dean Abernathy's desk is a biggie; he is slated to defend a homeless man accused of the felony murder of the popular black New York City Police commissioner during an early-morning mugging attempt. But at second look, the case promises to be a routine conviction. The evidence is overwhelming. The police have come up with an eyewitness, they have physical evidence, and Joey Spadafino has given the arresting officers a signed confession.
Dean's course seems obvious: Get Joe Spadafino, an ex-con, to plead guilty, bargain for the most lenient sentence possible, and figure you can't win ‘em all.
Before he can talk to his client about a plea bargain, however, he finds that the prosecutor has already offered one - which Joey refuses. Dean, not only a conscientious defense attorney but a former investigator, starts looking harder at the seemingly incontrovertible evidence.
What he turns up changes a foregone conclusion into something very different. The district attorney, although outwardly cooperative, seems to be trying to keep Dean from interviewing the eyewitness - and the reason becomes apparent when Dean, challenged, digs deeper into her background. Anomalies and discrepancies in the government's case crop up.
Dean realizes that he is drawing closer to a particularly nasty truth, one that not only puts his life and those of others in immediate peril but confronts him with a moral dilemma that is even more difficult to face.
Born Lee Earle Ellroy in 1948, James Ellroy is one of the most critically acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers of crime and historical fiction. Ellroy's complex narratives, which merge history and fiction, have pushed the boundaries of the crime fiction genre: American Tabloid, a revisionist look at the Kennedy era, was Time magazine's Novel of the Year 1995, and his novels L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia were adapted into films. Much of Ellroy's remarkable life story has served as the template for the personal obsessions that dominate his writing. From the brutal, unsolved murder of his mother, to his descent into alcohol and drug abuse, his sexual voyeurism, and his stints at the Los Angeles County Jail, Ellroy has lived through a series of hellish experiences that few other writers could claim.
In Conversations with James Ellroy, Ellroy talks extensively about his life, his literary influences, his persona, and his attitudes towards politics and religion. In interviews with fellow crime writers Craig McDonald, David Peace, and others, including several previously unpublished interviews, Ellroy is at turns charismatic and eloquent, combative and enigmatic.