Rediscovered: A James Ellroy John Hancock

How about allowing an Apprentice Autograph Hound loose on the Mean Streets to run with those battle-scarred gray wolves Brian Leno and Kevin Cook?

Got a note in from Jeff Mariotte — obviously a lifelong book collector, like most people I know, but also a fairly prolific fictioneer (not as prolific as a James Reasoner, but other than a Bob Randisi or a Bob Silverberg, who is?). Jeff said:

“I noted with interest your post on Dennis McMillan’s copy of Mike’s The Black Echo. I checked my copy (with belly-band intact, if course), and sure enough, same date. I also have the ARC with the same inscription. I didn’t realize they were from Mike’s first signing, though, so thanks for that!

“FYI, I took your Hammett tour decades ago, when I was a kid bookseller at Books Inc. in San Jose, and loved it. Since then, I ran the chain’s Hunter’s Books in La Jolla — Chandler country — then opened Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, before going to work in comics publishing. I’m now the author of more than 70 books, including a few mysteries (one of which was blurbed by Connelly), among other things. I also got to write three Age of Conan novels, another shared interest.

“Glad to see you’re still going strong!”

We got to talking, mostly about how Connelly’s squiggly “MC” autograph has scarred me for life — but then I remembered an even more degraded “initial signature” I saw years ago in The Mysterious Bookshop West, when Shelly was running it. I was looking through some of the stacks of books on the front tables, and asked, “Who wrote the 22 in Ellroy’s book?”

Honest, I was curious. The number twenty-two. Seemed kind of odd.

“Oh,” said someone in the know. “That’s Ellroy’s signature.”

I mean, come on. Jesus Christ. You might as well just grab the end of your tongue between your teeth and mark your “X” like some illiterate prospector in an old Western movie.

Jeff knew all about that John Hancock, though. “Ellroy’s signature has always been minimalist, but (like his prose) has become more so with time. He used to put a little effort into making it look like words.”

Jeff sent me a sample with the note, “This is my earliest of his.

“If you’re looking for anyone else in the field, I have a pretty comprehensive signed collection of the major players beginning in the early 80s.”

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