Book #44

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia-and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia-driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl's twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

I have no idea what I’ve just read, only that I didn’t enjoy it much. I bought this book during a thirst for crime – true or otherwise – some years ago. The Black Dahlia is a notable, legendary unsolved crime from history, and I wanted to learn more about the woman herself, and her unjustified end.

Instead, I met two Los Angeles police officers, both ex-boxers, who become paired together to solve this mess. In the first stages of the novel, they are pitted against each other in the ring, and the pages and pages of in-depth fight commentary are absolutely something to avoid.

The narrative focuses on Bleichert, the smaller, lighter-weight boxer/cop, and his perspective. We are treated to his insipid thought processes and reasoning. He was stubborn, impervious to criticism, misogynistic, and utterly selfish. I hated him. Bleichert seems to fumble his way through the investigation, often making aggressive or self-destructive decisions, yet finds all of the answers falling into his lap. Each catastrophic mistake seemed to lead him to the next clue or suspect, yet there was no feeling of reality or relatability, and no real development or reflection from him. It was the standard Hollywood chips falling into place, and I’m a cop so I don’t need to change for anyone, type of shit.

The worst part of this novel is all the unnecessary crap thrown in. Nothing really happens until about 100 pages have turned, then we’re stuck in a stalemate for another 100 pages before something worthwhile happens again. Ellroy throws in all sorts of pointless drivel, I assume to connect us with the characters. He failed in this.

Ellroy’s language is peppered with post-war Los Angeles colloquialisms and police jargon which get old real quick. The dialogue helped to paint every single character as a trite caricature, and I soon felt the novel akin to a bumbling police drama I might watch at 2pm on a Sunday. Incredibly disengaging.

And there’s hardly any Dahlia. Yes, we hear the gruesome details and are involved in finding the killer. We even hear first-hand from her family and known associates. But the Dahlia murder was never solved; Ellroy takes it upon himself here to fictionalise a killer, rendering himself untrustworthy and leaving me in serious doubt as to whether the Elizabeth Short within his pages was the same as the real girl who is still awaiting her justice.

This story is more about two cops becoming obsessed with a murder inquiry and letting it destroy their lives. Read if you like pointless details, cringey American police jargon, and dickhead boxers. Do not read if you’re on a crime burst and are looking for some insight into The Black Dahlia case. A complete waste of time.