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My Dark Places

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  3,929 ratings  ·  260 reviews
From the author of L.A. Confidential comes My Dark Places, an investigative autobiography by James Ellroy. In 1958, Ellroy's mother, Jean, was raped, killed, and dumped off a road in El Monte, California, a rundown L.A. suburb. The killer was never found, and the case was closed. It was a sordid, back-page homicide that no one remembered. Except her son.

James Ellroy was

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Hardcover, 427 pages
Published November 5th 1996 by Random House Value Publishing (first published 1996)
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In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteHelter Skelter by Vincent BugliosiThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann RuleThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonColumbine by Dave Cullen
Best True Crime
41st out of 473 books — 748 voters
In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John BerendtThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonHelter Skelter by Vincent BugliosiPeople Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
True Crime--Well Written
43rd out of 178 books — 147 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jessica
Apr 30, 2008 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: probably not to everyone
Recommended to Jessica by: most recently, cate peebles
I love this goddamn book, and I love James Ellroy. Reading this made me remember why I liked his books so much when I read them years ago, but this is much better than his fiction. Still, I think having read some of his other stuff definitely helped me appreciate this more.

Ellroy really gets it. He gets so many things that most people don't: Ellroy gets misogyny. He gets bigotry and racism. Ellroy gets brutality and violence. He gets crime. He gets sexuality, he gets desire, he gets pain. He get
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brian
in the grand tradition started by those two saucy goodreads wenches (that's karen and 'tambo, of course), i present my own offering: a pic of one of my heroes, james 'demon dog' ellroy, with his arm around me and manny. further down is another pic of him shouting profanities and right-wing slogans in the course of his reading. fucking gorgeous madman.



after the reading i took the bigass cardboard display featuring the cover of blood's a rover and had him to sign it to jack. jack is a pitbull. el
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Chris
You won, Mr. Ellroy. You won. It took 283 pages. Your short, staccato sentences finally defeated me. I couldn't take it anymore. So I quit. If I were to meet you in person, you'd laugh at me. You'd call yourself a genius. You'd call me a fucking idiot. You'd be right. You are a genius. I am a fucking idiot. That doesn't change the fact that your memoir is practically unreadable.

I was able to decipher a few things from what I read. I know that you're a weird dude. I know that your dad had a huge
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Matt
The murder rate in this part of the country seems to have steadily increased over the last fifteen to twenty years. I have no empirical evidence to back up this claim, only the fact that I have noticed a greater frequency over time in the local television station doing what I call the ritual.

The ritual consists of at least four distinct movements. The first is the sudden announcement that a murder has happened. No names or locations are released, thus getting everyone who is paying any attentio
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Abailart
Relelentlessly energetic prose, thin with detail and thick with life: as autobiography bordering on fiction, it is largely a conscious reflection upon the thin procedural lines, maps, data of detective work and memory, and the thick emotional heat of memory as powerful as instinct. Though ‘factual’, incredibly fact-stuffed recording of events and contingencies, the end result is a wasteland of strewn debris where everything is disconnected: against the urge for connection, maybe the book’s core ...more
Alan
Aug 10, 2009 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Alan by: Abailart and others
Although many of the books I read have crime in them I don't really read ‘crime’ novels, or 'true crime' books (or memoirs come to that) so I would probably have missed this altogether except for the GR reviews from friends and others. Really so much has been written on GR about this book I find it hard to add to. I agree with many assessments, like Abailart's:

This is a deeply, deeply moral book. The honesty of the author’s laying himself out like a corpse on an autopsy slab is brilliant and ter
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Kim

At some time between 35 and 40 I started on this downward (?) spiral of crime shows. I was never one to really watch them and couldn’t understand the appeal, but after my fourth child I caught a Law and Order marathon and was hooked. It moved on from there… as did the spin offs and then came CSI and all its iterations and then Criminal Minds and oh hell, Dexter… love that guy…. It got to the point that my children would get that Dr. Phil look and ask me why I watched these shows. I really don’t
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Lee
Loved the phrasing and the author's druggie homeless pervo life story more than the catalogue of vivisected women and the facts of various crimes. Descriptions of mucho paperwork and the prose form the life of the author's murdered mother in ellipsis. Read most of it on location in LA and maybe liked it since I'd just been on the same streets and freeways. Read it thanks to Bolano's recommendation in "Between Parentheses" and liked seeing how this one's occasional transition-less lists of crimes ...more
Josh
In 'My Dark Places' James Ellroy reenacts his mothers murder by canvasing the pages of the cold case murder book to deliver a matter-of-fact police procedural with a high degree of emotional detachment - more noticeable given the difficult primary subject. Initially overly descriptive and heavy on nostalgia, this open heart semi biography brings life to ghosts long forgotten and illuminates the troubles of a younger James Ellroy. Both inspiring and frustrating, the procession of the later invest ...more
gaby
Obsessive, blunt, dark. Genuine. Painful. Lurid. Riveting. Never maudlin, never easy. Ellroy's dark places are spellbinding. This memoir reads like a tabloid, a film treatment, a dark opus, a final lovesong, full blooded and bloody. This is ground zero for Ellroy's fucked up skull. Dead women, dead ends, lust lost, love lost. His life. Her death. Los Angeles.
Rex Fuller
The title is an understatement. Addiction. Alcoholism. Jail (multiple, totaling a year). Homelessness. Starvation. Incest fantasy. And that's not all. Less than half way through there is no doubt in your mind where Ellroy's novels of blackest corruption, death, and failure come from. His mother was murdered and dumped when he was ten. The first half of the book tells what happened to him afterward. The second tells about his investigation of her murder. It was never solved. Not by the police and ...more
Victor Bruneski
I have always felt that James Ellroy is one of the most powerful writers that I have read. His characters really pull you in to their internal world. I always thought his characters did tend to be a little similar, like the hypocritical liberal or the lost in time badass conservative.

My Dark Places is part biography and part true crime, and it makes you understand where he gets his characters from.

The book is divided up into four parts. The first part is the original investigation into his mothe
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Jonathan Anderson
I've been having debates with friends lately about how much of what we know about James Ellroy is an image and how much is the actual person showing through. After reading My Dark Places, I THINK I have the answers I've been arguing in search of, but who's to say for sure?

Taken at face value, this book seems to prove that Ellroy is (well, was, might still be, this is where the doubt is coming in) exactly the damaged goods his books seem to indicate, but for the most heartbreaking reasons. It als
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Jackie
Jean was such a goddamn secretive woman. Her life just didn't make sense.

This is probably more time than I would ordinarily want to spend in James Ellroy's company. I love L.A. Confidential, and I will certainly read more of his fiction, but the whole but-the-author-doesn't-really-think-like-his-characters defense kind of breaks down once you get to know the author. Or does it? The best thing about My Dark Places is that you get to know Ellroy intimately (intimately), but you still don't know wh
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John
My Dark Places is a memoir as only James Ellroy can write one.

The book comprises three sections—the first is a third-person narrative of his mother’s murder in 1958 and the criminal investigation that failed to solve the crime. For the second part, Mr. Ellroy switches to a first-person POV and tells us the story of his troubled youth and young adulthood. The third, concluding section maintains the first-person perspective and recounts how Mr. Ellroy teamed up with a retired homicide detective to
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Arpad Lep
Dec 07, 2014 Arpad Lep rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Arpad by: Christmas present from MARLON MAGAS
Shelves: geek
James Ellroy is still a con man. His prose is long lists of facts spiced with the perfect amount of cursing and slang. He tricks you into painting portraits. Side story fills you in on California's coming of age. A history of crime from the case file facts, how LA changed from 1950 to 1990, how crime changed with LA.
James's mother was murdered when he was a kid. He approached the mystery of who she was after several decades of throwing his own life away before becoming an award winning blah blah
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Michael
My Dark Places is an interesting combination between investigative journalism/true crime and memoir of James Ellroy and his struggle to find answers to the unsolved murder of his mother, Geneva. She did when he was 10 years old and started his love affair with the Black Dahlia case and all things crime related (especially books; beginning with the Hardy boys and moving onto the hard-boiled greats). Needless to say the death of his mother was particularly hard on him and caused a very self destru ...more
Bernard Rodriguez

Part true crime murder mystery, part creep-o confessional; Ellroy's romansbilding is a tale of multiple shames, and indignities. The guilt of not doing his mother's death justice by loving her in life, and the shame of dragging her murder into the public eye for personal exploitation.

Meeting critics head on and confronting them with brutal honesty about his motivations, Ellroy's candidness severs through any judgements of the man you can make today. Scumbag first class? Sure. Grave robber? Mayb
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Jason Chester
Having suffered previous dissapointments with Ellroy's convoluted brand of fact inspired fiction, I was slightly apprehensive when I picked this one up. However it's biographical status, hinged with its unflinching honesty and clipped, poetically charged sentences makes this an excellent read.

Ellroy's work has often been described as 'psycho-sexual', and indeed with novels such as 'The Black Dahlia' sexual urges - repressed or expressed, deviant or otherwise - cast long shadows across his sun dr
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Marissa
This is the first James Ellroy book I've read, although I've been aware of him by reputation for a while. Overall, I really liked the book, especially the earlier parts of it where Ellroy gives us a gritty and naked accounting of his mother's murder and his early life growing up without her. The book is disturbing and complex, with a hard-edged, tightly controlled, yet eternally seething emotional energy, which gives the voyeuristic reader a pretty horrifying taste of what Ellroy has had to live ...more
Charles Morgan
Having seen this kook on a tv special, and one in which he openly talked of his Oedipus (spelling?) complex with his mother, I did not know what to think. I honestly had zero idea this book honed in exact same subject matter. I'll add that I did some basic research on Ellroy because he is an acclaimed writer. What I found out was that he writes in short sentence structure as a result of his early work being heavily edited for length. His style is easy to read, and the overall effect is that Ellr ...more
Peejay Who Once Was Minsma
The title of My Dark Places is not a metaphor. Ellroy's mother was raped and murdered when he was 10 years old (1958) and the memoir covers the initial investigation of her murder; Ellroy's later downward plunge into drugs, booze, homelessness, theft; his subsequent crawl back out of the gutter to go on to a successful writing career; and finally, his own investigation (with the help of an L.A. Sheriff's Department Homicide detective) of his mother's death.

This is a sometimes grim—and always un
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Stuart
Here is an intensely personal book by James Ellroy that explores the unsolved murder of his mother when he was just a young boy. It is more of a detective procedural story, without the flash and action of his fiction books. And yet for those familiar for his work, it clearly illuminates his fascination and obsession with the secret and desperate lives of unremarkable people that rarely gets exposed to the larger public. Highly recommended after you have read several of his other books first.
Luke
This book is a bummer.

Yes, because the rest of Ellroy's writing is full of joie de vivre, right?

Nope. This is a complete bummer. But it's essential if you've enjoyed any of his work in the past, because this book is an honest, gruelling examined of how he became who he is. If you've ever had a feeling there were some weird peccadilloes in his writing, they're at least ameliorated a little here.

The book chiefly concerns three people: Ellroy's mother, Jean Hilliker, Ellroy himself and Bill Ston
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Steven Belanger
These are some very dark places, indeed. This is a memoir / autobiography / crime procedural written in Ellroy's hyper, staccato style. (Think of his Black Dahlia or L.A. Confidential, two classics of the crime genre--or of any genre.) You'll learn more than you'd want to know about Ellroy as a young boy--and you'll be blown away by how honest it is. These are things that even very honest people don't put in their memoirs, but I suspect that Ellroy likes the honesty of it, in a brutal, self-hurt ...more
Natalie
James Ellroy has probably the worst Oedipus complex since the original Motherfucker himself. That said, he's fully aware of it and is completely insightful about it and how it's informed more or less every aspect of his life. That's the best thing to take away from My Dark Places; any fan of Ellroy's work will see exactly where his repeating themes were born.
Jesse Osborne
So so good. Ellroy's short, sardonic prose pairs well with the film noir, "LA in the 50s" theme of the book...like something out of Pulp Fiction, only darker. It's part memoir, part investigative journalism, so if you're into writing style like that of Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe, I'd definitely recommend. Such an enthralling, gritty read.
Richard
Sep 06, 2007 Richard rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: mytopfive
Master crime novelist James Ellroy wove this hard-boiled autobiography around his quest for his mother’s killer. Halfway through this painfully honest memoir, I began wondering what would have become of Ellroy if he hadn’t started writing. Conclusive proof that fact and fiction are moulded from the same clay. (Ranks in my all-time Top-5.)
Adam
On its most basic level, the author (a famous LA noir writer before this - black dahlia, la confidential) investigates his mother's unsolved homicide, occuring when he was 8. In revisiting the homicide, Ellroy tells his own incredible story of crazy divorced parents, giving way to crazy drug and alcohol addiction giving way to crazy success, and retells numerous cold case homicides that intersect his mother's case in many tangential ways.

In the second half of the book, Ellroy pairs up with a ne
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Per Eriksson
James Ellroy skriver kriminalromaner som i huvudsak utspelar sig i Los Angeles. Där staden inte sällan också är en av huvudpersonerna.

Detta är en självbiografisk roman som tar sin utgångspunkt i mordet på författarens mor, när han var endast tio år gammal.

Vi får följa författarens liv från tidpunkten för mordet till att han trettio år senare tar sig för att söka svaret på vem som låg bakom mordet.

Det är en gripande berättelse som belyser inte bara Ellroys komplexa relation till sina föräldrar ut
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James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York ...more
More about James Ellroy...
The Black Dahlia (L.A. Quartet, #1) L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet, #3) American Tabloid (Underworld USA, #1) The Big Nowhere (L.A. Quartet, #2) White Jazz (L.A. Quartet, #4)

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“She quoted a dead playwright and called me a bullet with nothing but a future. She understood my lack of self-pity. She knew why I despised everything that might restrict my forward momentum. She knew that bullets have no conscience. They speed past things and miss their marks as often as they hit them.” 12 likes
“Dead people belong to the live people who claim them most obsessively.” 11 likes
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