Monday, September 25

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

Review by Gloria Feit

 

It has been nigh onto impossible lately to avoid reading about The Black Dahlia, the much-publicized [and widely panned] film version of the book by the same name written in 1987.  The book, very well received at that time, has now been reissued shortly in advance of the film's release [with a new Afterword by the author].  For some reason I had never read the book, but am very happy the reissue brought it to my attention and that I have been able to correct that oversight.

 

The actual event about which the book revolves is the still-unsolved, very brutal murder in LA in 1947 of Elizabeth Short, a beautiful young woman, 22 years old, given to wearing all black and thus dubbed The Black Dahlia by the tabloids.  As is widely known and as is the subject of the Afterword, eleven years after Elizabeth Short's death the author's mother was also murdered in LA (which killing likewise was never solved), obviously the seminal event of his life, and the book is dedicated to her.

 

The book takes guise of a memoir written by a fictional LA cop in on the case from the day the body was discovered, who describes himself as 'the only one who does know the entire story.'  The body is discovered on page 69 of the book, the preceding pages allowing the reader to get to know the persona of the protagonist who at some point becomes the author's alter ego

 

The racist and otherwise politically incorrect language is jarring albeit almost undoubtedly the norm for the time and it is all the more authentic for that.  The author does not need this reviewer to praise the wonderful writing:  James Ellroy may not have been the first to write LA noir, and some may have done it equally well, but nobody's done it better.

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