I like Hammett. Red Harvest has one of my favorite lines in it: "I haven't laughed so hard hard since the hogs ate my kid brother." But I'm not sure I buy into Ellroy's thesis. I know something about drinking, for instance. You can always find a reason for it, but for a natural born drunk it's its own reason. And I've known, far more than most people, and known quite well, plenty of so-called low lifes. I say "so-called" because when you get to know them you realize they're really not all that much different from most other people. What I don't see is how you can validly project from their milieu to a grand sociolgical conclusion about American or anyplace else. America has its jungles, to be sure. But it isn't all or even mostly jungle.