Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “True Confessions” as Want to Read:
True Confessions
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

True Confessions

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  325 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
From the author of HARP and PLAYLAND, a crime novel set in California in the aftermath of World War Two, against the background of the infamous Black Dahlia killing. An unidentified murder victim precipitates a storm in a group of people whose lives are threaded together by the crime.
Unknown Binding, 352 pages
Published July 28th 1997 by Not Avail (first published 1977)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about True Confessions, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about True Confessions

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,054)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Linda Hart
Jul 27, 2010 Linda Hart rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this book primarily because the author, John Dunne, was Joan Didion's husband of 40 years & because it's considered a classic of contemporary literature, with a goodread readers' 4 star rating. After 60 pages of ignoring foul language & depressingly brutal crime scenes, I could take no more & stopped reading. Dunne's refusal to adhere to correct grammar, sensible punctuation, and his anachonistic style (all acknowledged in his forward)do add shock value, but coupled with the ...more
Dana Stabenow
I read this book because it's on many "ten best mystery" lists. Originally published in 1977, it is an exemplar of noir, you can almost hear Humphrey Bogart's voice-over. But there is far too much going off on tangents that are great for establishing the voice (over and over again, she said a little jadedly), and there is no one to like, no character I can root for. "Noir" means black in French, and this book is both black and bleak in outlook. Maybe I'm meant to be cheered by the two brothers s ...more
Jul 22, 2012 Mike rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished True Confessions--the book a friend of mine (a retired economics professor) "made" me read. Four and a half hours on public transportation yesterday got me through the last half of the book. I finished off the final few pages this morning. And I'm relieved that I'm done. True Confessions is a meandering mess of existential navel gazing. Maybe if I was a Catholic, I'd care more about the heavy handed themes of guilt and sin and adultery, but the author's style makes it all half-ba ...more
Definitely a classic of the hard-boiled variety, based on the famous Black Dahlia murder in 1940s LA. The language is harsh and violent and the characters aren't very likable but the comparison of the scandal-plagued, wildly corrupt LA police department with the innerworkings and politics of the city's Catholic churches is very interesting. Turns out - they're not so different.
David Marans
Aug 17, 2014 David Marans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dazzling! Although I have seen the film only a few years ago (it was not a "success" but I enjoyed it), this spellbinding novel was richer, more engrossing and filled with memorable scenes. Strangely, I could not finish another book by this author, but given how memorable True Confessions felt, I'm ready for more.

Full disclosure - I find the Black Dahlia case fascinating (and of course horrible), but it is richly etched characters and (seemingly) authentic period/LA dialogue that captured my at
Ken French
Jul 16, 2014 Ken French rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-fiction
A masterpiece of crime fiction.
Kenneth P.
Feb 06, 2014 Kenneth P. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is a novel of twos-- two brothers, two "houses", a woman severed in two pieces. They are the Spellacy brothers, Tommy the cop, Desmond the priest. The "houses" are the LAPD and the Catholic Church. The butchered woman is Lois Fazenda, lowlife, hooker, vagrant. Never a character in the book, Ms. Fazenda becomes the focal point for John Gregory Dunne's sprawling novel of crime and corruption in 1940's L.A.

Detective Tom and Father Des have a love/hate relationship. As brothers, their fierce co
Mal Warwick
Jul 23, 2015 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
True Confessions, first published in 1977, is widely regarded as a classic American novel. Set in Los Angeles in 1948 and based on the notorious, never-solved Black Dahlia murder case, the story plumbs the depths of guilt and corruption — in the L.A.P.D., the Catholic Church, the construction industry, and in the relationships among them. Like the film Chinatown, which came to the screen three years before the novel, True Confessions illuminates the dark underside of Los Angeles at a time when c ...more
Julia Alberino
Jun 12, 2014 Julia Alberino rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't bother! To begin, the writing is poor quality, unusually so even for John Gregory Dunne. He may have been trying to mimic or mock the speech of late-50s policemen (no women in sight) and Irish-American priests, but the effect was unpleasant. The crime is grisly, the solution improbable and not well-developed, and the overall reading experience unsatisfactory. This is the rare case in which I can say the movie was better than the book.
Mar 07, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The hardest of hard-boiled novels--made all the harder by its moments of restraint--a masterwork of grit, suspense, and narrative control, not to mention a wonderful evocation of Los Angeles and a near-definitive dictionary of racial slurs and terms for female anatomy. While it can be tough to swallow in places, that's also the art of it. George Pelecanos points out in the introduction that the reader is free to judge the characters if they want, but the author refuses to.

What makes this book so
Jan 10, 2008 billy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: angelinos, catholics, guys who wana feel like men
True Confessions made me wanna get my hands dirty in the bowels of a city. Since I wasn't about to sign up for the police academy, I did the next best thing: I started searching for an apartment in the nitty-grittiest spot I could think of in downtown Portland (Voodoo Donuts).
Kathy  Petersen
Okay, I admit it. True Confessions is trash. It's full of undeleted expletives, scatologically descriptive words, ethnological slurs, and dully wicked characters. I'm not even sure how the police detective came to the solution of the foul murder. Yet all in all the book was so well done that I read it straight through and came to admire its very grittiness.
Steve Gross
Nov 12, 2013 Steve Gross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A cross between a novel, a police procedural and a mystery. Set in LA in 1946. This is the crudest book I have ever read - filled with profanity, racism and sexual terminology. Very irish and very Catholic to the point where I did not understand some of the religious references. Still, a very compelling story about good and evil.
Jul 31, 2015 Jake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated this book because it has no illusions about what it is. It wears its racism, cynicism, classist attitudes on its sleeve. And yet, there is still a desire to solve this murder amidst the police and Catholic institutional corruption. Inspired by the Black Dahlia murder, the two main characters, also brothers, never descend into stereotype because, as one character says, they don't believe the myths and thus have a hardened, realistic view of the world. And yet, Dunne makes sure that ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Jess rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Scanned. I almost can't even really consider this read because I scanned it. I really tried to give it a go but I hated it so much. I can't believe someone read this and decided to make it into a movie.
Apr 05, 2014 Annette rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well written book but the characters are living depressing lives and have very few admirable or redeeming traits. I didn't like it very much because it paints such a depressing picture of mankind.
Apr 22, 2009 Kerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An overlooked genius. John Gregory Dunne's characterization of Hollywood in the 1940's presages James Ellroy's without the hyperbole.
Nov 23, 2008 Cynthia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific mystery (don't be put off by the title) later made into a pretty good movie with Robert de Niro.
Mar 05, 2011 Rheo3000 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I appreciate this book for what it is: a very good book written in a style that I do not like.
Charles Lewis
Dec 25, 2013 Charles Lewis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I always loved this story since I saw the movie years ago. Then I realized there must be a book attached to the film and was thrilled to find a copy on Kindle. I actually think I liked the movie a bit more. What is there not to like with Robert DeNiro and Robert Duval playing brothers in this hard boiled story of morality and choice. So as I read it I kept seeing them in their roles. I wonder what it be like to read the book without ever having watched the film?
The basic o
May 25, 2009 Nora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By far the best L.A. murder mystery I have ever read. Every word was a treat.
Jonathan Briggs
May 08, 2012 Jonathan Briggs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's postwar El Lay in the 1940s, and the body of a wannabe actress and working girl is dumped into a vacant lot after she's been savagely mutilated and cut into pieces. A racist cop/ex-palooka investigates the sensational murder while wrestling with his own twisted hangups. Sound familiar? But "True Confessions" actually predates "The Black Dahlia," and, according to George Pelecanos' introduction, James Ellroy freely acknowledges his debt to John Gregory Dunne and this novel. The books complem ...more
The real-life Black Dahlia murder has been the basis for thousands of pages of speculation, and the inspiration for several novels, including this one. The book opens with a section called "Now" (roughly 1975), in which we meet the two protagonists, Irish-Catholic brothers Tommy and Des Spellacy, as the former drives to a rundown church in the California desert to meet the latter. It becomes clear that Des used to be a bigwig in the Los Angeles Archdiocese before something happened 28 years ago ...more
Francis Williams
Revisiting an old favorite, Dunne's tale of the uneasy relationship between two brothers, one and up-and-coming Catholic priest, the other a disgraced police detective. Wonderful 1940s period detail in a reimagining of the famous "Black Dahlia" murder. Dunne's crackling, hard boiled dialogue is always a delight, as are the many fascinating minor characters.
Jul 20, 2011 Belinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This novel was the definition of the phrase "slow burn" was definitely a bit slow in the beginning--mainly trying to get all the lingo down. I have read plenty of detective novels but it was getting the slang and the police lingo etc in the time period described. The back story of the book is loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder and is a favorite of James Ellroy so both of these things influenced me to read this one. I have to say, once it got going it was very good. A really nice com ...more
Sep 19, 2014 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was going to give it four stars, but then I added an extra one after reading so many prissy negative reviews by well scrubbed white women. Go back to reading those books where cats (Yum Yum and Snookie Pie!) solve the crimes. This book is out of your league.
Patti McLaughlin
I loved the dynamics between the two brothers. John Gregory Dunne captured the relationship and competition between them Irish cop and Irish priest perfectly. I felt I knew these men. The noir milieu of post war los Angeles was an inspired setting.
My God, what a book.

I suspected (an apt verb for this region) that the Noir Region of LA Weekly's Best L.A. Novel Ever tournament would contain excellent novels, probably the best collectively of any of the regions, but I secretly maintained that "L.A. Confidential" would remain my favorite even after I'd read all of the selections. I was wrong.

"True Confessions" is not only one of the best noir novels I have ever read, it is one of the best novels I have ever read regardless of genre. I cannot
Sep 21, 2007 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: James Ellroy fans
Keeping up on my crime fiction by literary authors with John Gregory Dunne's take on the Black Dahlia murder. It is clear that he is making an attempt to elevate the crime novel as a form, and to shock with the gritty depiction of the corruption in the LAPD and Los Angeles Diocese. The book fails in many respects, trying too hard with the shock tactics and falling flat in the ending (not unlike Ellroy's Black Dahlia). But the characters are great, there are amazing riffs, and it so clearly influ ...more
Tony Gleeson
Dec 17, 2008 Tony Gleeson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again I was lured to this novel by the movie based upon it, starring Roberts DeNiro and Duvall. The novel is deeper and less dramatic (no great surprise there) and I found it thoroughly involving on several levels. The murder mystery itself-- set in vintage Los Angeles and based rather loosely on the "Black Dahlia" murder case-- almost takes a back seat to the familial and ecclesiastic relationships being explored and the final solution to the crime is a bit more mundane and realistic; for ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 35 36 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Eye of the Beholder
  • Sneaky People
  • Cutter and Bone
  • A Crime in the Neighborhood
  • Beast In View
  • Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter, #1)
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios
  • Laura
  • The Ferguson Affair
  • Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics
  • Golden Days
  • First Born
  • LaBrava
  • The Circular Staircase
  • If He Hollers Let Him Go
  • Guinness World Records 2001
  • Kidnapped (Great Illustrated Classics)
  • Petite Mort
John Gregory Dunne was an American novelist, screenwriter and literary critic.

He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and was a younger brother of author Dominick Dunne. He suffered from a severe stutter and took up writing to express himself. Eventually he learned to speak normally by observing others. He graduated from Princeton University in 1954 and worked as a journalist for Time magazine. He m
More about John Gregory Dunne...

Share This Book