The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy Most people are familiar with the case of the Black Dahlia, one of the most infamous unsolved murder cases in U.S. history, where a young, pretty Hollywood starlet named Elizabeth Short is found in a vacant lot, her body mutilated, disemboweled, and cut in half. But this isn't a true crime book. Just as in the fantastic The Big Nowhere, the first book I read by author James Ellroy, he mixes L.A. history and fascinating fictional characters and weaves an awesome tapestry of the seedy and depraved world of 1940's Los Angeles. The novel is told from the point of view of Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, who starts the book as a promising new LAPD warrants officer, until he gets embroiled in the case of the Black Dahlia, changing his life forever in more ways than one, as he is swept up in the obsessive circus that the investigation becomes.

This fixation on the case is personal for the author, he also fell victim to the Dahlia's pull in real life in the late 50's after Ellroy's mother was brutally murdered. He became fascinated with historical violent crime and studying the murder of Elizabeth Short became a proxy for dealing with his mother's death. This personal attachment fills the book with real earnestness and passion that helped to make it a crime classic.

Aside from the fact that Ellroy's usual knack for great wordplay is on display, one of the most interesting things about the novel is the way the obsession over the Dahlia is detailed, an obsession that jumps from person to person like a disease, eating away at everyone it touches. Although his partner jumps headfirst into the investigation, Bucky starts off fairly unfazed by the murder, annoyed at the media frenzy and eager to get back to working warrants; catching normal bad guys he can understand, not ones that cut Glasgow smiles into pretty girls' faces from ear to ear. But eventually he succumbs to the Dahlia's pull and falls deeper, the way Danny does in The Big Nowhere, so deep it becomes all he thinks about. The Black Dahlia is the story of that kind of obsession, the one that can eat away at the soul.