I have discovered, belatedly, Jerome Charyn — specifically his Isaac Sidel novels, about a Jewish New York police detective who (I gather) goes on to enter politics and become mayor of the city.
To begin with, Charyn reminded me strongly of James Ellroy (though Charyn came first); but the more I read, the more he seems his own thing. Like Ellroy, he writes hardboiled prose, terse and loquacious, drowning you in information about feelings and social arrangements at the same time as leaving you clutching at straws of news about plot and motivation; it's a whirlpool. The other point of contact with Ellroy is the way he shows police work is inseparable from politics, showbiz, organized crime and sex. Policing has less to do with enforcing the law than with keeping a lid on humanity's irrational side: its an agent of repression, a bullying super ego.
Charyn is unlike Ellroy in other ways though. The POV dances constantly: you learn about the emotions, the childhood memories and the sexual kinks of protagonist, villains, whores, stoolies, incidental cab-drivers and waiters; and meanwhile, an omniscient narrator is chucking in notes on social arrangements, history, geography. And partly because of this Charyn is far more nuanced about race, gender and sexuality. Ellroy's LAPD cops are white guys; but Sidel and Manfred Coen — the central character in the first couple of novels — are Jews, whose relationship to white authority is automatically ambiguous, suspect. In Ellroy, the Latins, the Chinese, the blacks appear almost exclusively as victims; here, they have something to say.
There's also a strong literary streak. A Broadway producer muses on his festival of early Pinter, then hears a noise from the dumbwaiter (geddit?); in the fourth novel, Secret Isaac (1978), Sidel goes to Dublin and visits Leopold Bloom's house. Maybe Charyn is trying a little too hard to be an intellectual; maybe other writers don't try hard enough.
Here's a description of a supporting character in Blue Eyes (1974), a member of a family of Peruvian marrano pickpockets in Brooklyn (Sheb, by the way, is Manfred's uncle: the intertwining of criminals and police goes all the way down):
At forty, thirty, twenty, fifteen, Jerónimo had been the baby. Papa stuffed spinach sandwiches down his throat, Topal cleaned his fingernails with a safety pin, whoever found him in the street had to tie his shoes. The five other Guzmanns took turns bathing him; no one could trust him alone in a tub. Yet Jerónimo had an infallible sense of direction, the ability to read red and green lights, the acumen to avoid the harsh yellow paint of the taxicabs, the boldness to clamp money into a busdriver's fist. He could sing louder than Jorge. He swallowed caramels faster than Topal or Alejandro. He consumed more chocolate than a covey of schoolgirls. He mourned the plucked chickens in butcher windows, his eyes following the hooked line of strangled necks, pitying the lack of feathers more than the loss of life. He had profounder silences than any of the Coens. Among the Guzmanns he had the strongest grip. He loved César best, then his father, then Topal, then Alejandro, the Jorge, then uncle Sheb. He missed the egg store, the blue-white aura of the candling machine, the pea soup of Jessica Coen. He was a manchild fixed in his devotions, his manners, his fears. He wouldn't step under a ladder but he could kiss the wormiest of dogs. He tore off chunks of halvah for toothless abuelitas (grandmas) and desperate nigger boys, not for young wives. He was kind to squirrels, mean to cats. He would climb fire escapes to mend a pigeon wing. He ignored birds with bloody wings.
It is some of the maddest writing I've read in a while: I mean that as a compliment.