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Publisher's Summary

From the modern master of noir comes a novel based on the real-life Hollywood fixer Freddy Otash, the malevolent monarch of the 1950s LA underground, and his Tinseltown tabloid Confidential magazine.

Freddy Otash was the man in the know and the man to know in '50s LA. He was a rogue cop, a sleazoid private eye, a shakedown artist, a pimp - and, most notably, the head strong-arm goon for Confidential magazine. 

Confidential presaged the idiot internet - and delivered the dirt, the dish, the insidious ink, and the scurrilous skank. It mauled misanthropic movie stars, sex-soiled socialites, and putzo politicians. Mattress Jack Kennedy, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson - Frantic Freddy outed them all. He was the Tattle Tyrant who held Hollywood hostage, and now he’s here to CONFESS.

“I’m consumed with candor and wracked with recollection. I’m revitalized and resurgent. My meshugenah march down memory lane begins NOW.”

In Freddy’s viciously entertaining voice, Widespread Panic torches 1950s Hollywood to the ground. It’s a blazing revelation of coruscating corruption, pervasive paranoia, and of sin and redemption with nothing in between.

Here is James Ellroy in savage quintessence. Freddy Otash confesses - and you are here to read and succumb.

©2021 James Ellroy (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

One of NPR's Best Books of the Year

“There is here, as in Ellroy’s other novels, so fully researched and plausible an evocation of the world about which he writes, so deft an intermingling of the real and fictional characters that the novelist asks the reader to believe that these events could have happened, and that some of them (Jack Kennedy’s exhaustive and exhausting philandering, for example) probably did. This commingling of fact and fiction is, of course, the basis upon which the myths of Hollywood, and hence, at this point, those of our broader American culture, rest.” (Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine)

Widespread Panic unfolds in shimmering Ellroyvision. In recounting his sinful past, Freewheeling Freddy mainlines the repetitive rhumba of his scandal sheet until it’s become the mother’s milk of his speech and psyche, and he bops to alliteration’s alluring algorithm.” (Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal)

Widespread Panic is quintessential Ellroy, but with enough alliteration, Hollyweird flavor, booze, distressed damsels, communist conspiracies, and extortion to make this the most Ellroy novel he's ever written.... Wildly entertaining and memorable.... Otash's voice is unlike anything else in contemporary fictio.... A spiritual companion to L.A. Confidential.” (NPR) 

What listeners say about Widespread Panic

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • JP
  • 07-02-21

Great for those familiar with Ellroy

I don’t think I’d start with this if you’ve never read or listened to an Ellroy book. I’d recommend at least starting with the Underworld USA trilogy. American Tabloid is book 1 and arguably his best. This novel’s protagonist, Freddy Otash, has a role in that series. That said, the series that precedes the Underworld USA trilogy, the LA Quartet, is also excellent. The first book in that series, The Black Dahlia, is his bestseller by far, mostly due to the film adaptation, of which James Ellroy himself is very critical. After listening to those seven books and now Widespread Panic, there is no doubt that Ellroy is my favorite author.

I don’t think this one is quite on the same level as the others I mentioned, but I still gave it 5 stars like all the rest. This one is lighter. The alliterative style is way over the top, which was intentional, and Ellroy has already said that he will never go back to it, even though a sequel is in the works. It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I did, I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

7 people found this helpful

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Very difficult to follow

After listening to this for nine hours I cannot tell you what happened. The performance was outstanding but the story kept jumping around it made no sense.

2 people found this helpful

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Hollywood Crimes and Misdemeanors

Welcome to the dark side of 1950s Hollywood or Hollyweird as Freddy Otash, the novel's anti-hero extraordinaire calls it. Most of the characters in this novel are real-life personalities of the era. Otash, a cop, private eye, Hollywood gossipmonger, and first-person narrator of this novel, lived and died in L.A. After hearing the Otash version, readers may never think of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, and Natalie Wood in the same way again. Rebel Without a Cause projects a different light. Ditto the era's beloved Jack Kennedy. Double ditto the guys from Serve and Protect. "Disillusionment is enlightenment," as Otash dishes out true confessions from Purgatory. Historical fiction as remembered and researched by James Ellroy. Having grown up in Fifties L.A., I remember a lot of the events recounted in this book, especially the Sturm und Drang surrounding "Red Light Bandit" Caryl Chessman, the Hollywood lefties' favorite death row inmate. A dark story filled with sex and violence and imaginable and unimaginable forms of bad behavior. Plus at no extra charge, you get a detailed recounting of Chessman's San Quintin execution. New uses for phonebooks. Starstruck takes on a whole new meaning. Ellroy wrote this in the fast-paced alliterative style of a Mid-Century gossip magazine accentuated by Craig Wasson's perfect narration. Filled with hip slang and cop lingo, you hear a noir jazz prose poem. Requiem for the recalcitrant.

1 person found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars

Very hard to listen to. Couldn't get through it.

The over use of cheesy alliteration made me opt out early. I just couldn't listen any more.

1 person found this helpful

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Feels Like An Afterthought

There is no bigger JE fan out there than I. I have read all of his books. This one seemed like an afterthought, a collection of crazy scenes with an only slightly unifying plot. He clearly thinks it is hilarious. I didn’t find it to be. It gets 3 stars because even “bad” Ellroy still has a lot to offer. I kept wondering whether this was something he felt he had to put out while working on the next volume of his second LA Quartet. Perhaps not but it seemed that way to me.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Vintage Ellroy

4.5 of 5 stars.

James Ellroy, accept no substitutes.

Prowlers, peepers and pederasts…..once again, we’re invited to bear silent witness to Ellroy’s world of Hollywood sleaze and police corruption. Ellroy’s unique staccato alliteration takes us to the lost time and place of Los Angeles in the 1950s through the eyes of Freddy Otash, the real-life former LAPD officer turned private eye who bribed, muscled, blackmailed and reported the sordid details of Hollywood lives to Confidential Magazine. This narrative is his confession from purgatory.

I’ve read most of Ellroy’s novels, some multiple times, and thoroughly enjoyed this addition to his catalogue. That being said, Ellroy’s world can be rough and ugly and the period-appropriate vernacular will offend some. I enjoy visiting his milieu of lost Los Angeles even if I don’t care for the characters who reside there. For me, the journey is more important than the destination.

Craig Wasson is pitch-perfect. The man was born to narrate Ellroy.

1 person found this helpful

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Ellroy delivers, Wasson impresses

Don't listen to the naysayers. Fantastic, not hard to follow. Wasson kills it as always!

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent Elroy

Not L.A. Confidential, but still one of James Elroy’s best and most interesting novels. If you are an Elroy fan, you will enjoy this sprawling tale of Hollywood, movie stars, gossip and murder.

1 person found this helpful

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Return to form for Ellroy

Let’s be honest: this is a less-ambitious James Ellroy novel; in fact it seems to be an expansion of a story he wrote about the confessions of Fred Otash. (It was for the “Kindle Singles” program, which apparently never took off.) But less ambitious is just fine after the sprawling This Storm, which was overwhelming in its self-seriousness. He wasn’t shooting for a masterpiece here.

And I really did need a break from Dudley Smith. Ellroy wrote one of the great characters of crime fiction…and then used and re-used him too often.

Craig Wasson remains a great choice to read Ellroy, although he clearly re-uses his Sid Hudgens voice (Danny DeVito in L.A. Confidential) for a very similar character.

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Not for the faint of heart.

Elroy is never easy, he’s no warm and cuddly writer. He’s abrasive, vulgar and crude but always interesting. This book is additionally challenging as it really requires the reader be well versed in Confidential Magazine as well LA in the 1950s and current events of that time. Many reviews are concerned with the narration as well as the alliteration Elroy uses throughout the book. It’s very rapid fire and can be difficult to follow. It’s very evocative of Confidential Magazine which was written in this style. The main character wrote for Confidential and speaks as he writes. If you understand the sometimes obscure references it can be very amusing, if not I can understand a reader’s frustration.