Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Black Dahlia: Review

The Black Dahlia (1987) is James Ellroy's fictional re-telling of the true murder case from Hollywood of the 1940s. On January 15, 1947, Hollywood was shocked when the brutally murdered body of Elizabeth Short was discovered in a vacant lot on South Norton. Ellroy uses the facts of the horrendous crime--a crime in which Short's nude body, mutilated and cut in half, was dumped like so much trash--and creates Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, two LA cops obsessed with the Black Dahlia and finding the right culprit even if it means going against the city establishment.

Bucky and Lee--known as Fire and Ice--are former boxing rivals who, after an interdepartmental boxing match, brings kudos and financial support to the department, are assigned as partners as warrant officers. One of their investigations takes them to the South Norton area on the morning that Short's body is found and Lee wangles their way into the murder investigation. Lee's obsession with the crime stems from the death of his younger sister years earlier and Bucky is concerned for his partner and obsessed with finding redemption through his work on the force and through his relationship with Lee and Lee's beautiful lover. 

Lee squirrels away files on the investigation and stretches himself to the limit (not sleeping or eating as he should) hunting down leads. When Lee disappears, Bucky continues the investigation and discovers secrets that help him find what he believes to be the solution.  But it's a solution he won't be able to produce officially and his investigation may cost him dearly professionally.

This is an intense, noir retelling of a very nasty crime. Ellroy invests a great deal of insight and intensity in his story--which is even more evident when you read the afterword to this edition and realize that Ellroy's mother was also the victim of a rather horrific crime. While noir is not my usual fare and I don't do a great deal of true crime (or even fictional true crime), Ellroy does write a compelling novel. His build-up of a case and possible solution to a crime that remains unsolved even now is convincing and well-constructed. It's easy to see why this has made one of the "1001 Books to Read Before you Die" lists even if I may not appreciate it as fully as those with a taste for noir and true crime. ★★

[Finished on 8/8/17--I'm still struggling to catch up on my reviews and I'm afraid that until I do, the reviews are going to be a little sparser than usual....]


Peggy Ann said...

Read this several years ago. Excellent book!

The Book Sage said...

The only Ellroy I have read is LA Confidential. And that was a long time ago. I remember liking it, but not well enough to read any of his other books. It might have something to do with genre.