Willem van den Oever's Reviews > The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
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Jan 03, 12

bookshelves: in-english, thriller-mystery, trenchcoats-and-dames
Read from December 24, 2011 to January 02, 2012

Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert, a part-timer boxer and full-time up-and-coming cop, is a tough but honest patrolman, put in the limelight by his superiors to give the LAPD an honorable, righteous face to the public. In the winter of 1947, he is teamed up with fellow boxer and police sergeant Lee Blanchard when the heavily mutilated body of Elizabeth Short is found on an empty lot in west L.A. The murder gets great publicity in the newspapers, where Short is renamed “The Black Dahlia”, after the Veronica Lake-movie that’s playing in the cinema’s at that time. The amount of press coverage not only puts great stress on Bleichert and Blanchard’s shoulders as they are pushed from every side to solve this crime; it also creates a media circus where everyone wants to be a part of and dozens of nutcases confess to the murder, just to get a temporary place in the spotlight. With the insanity spinning out of control, the detective-duo start breaking under the pressure, losing their lives in an almost similar way as Betty Short did.

Based upon the actual murder of Elizabeth Short, James Ellroy creates story so complex and intricate it could easy makes one’s head spin. His tempo and narrative are unforgiving, smacking the reader around with fast dialogue, gruesome details and an enormous cast of corrupted characters. Not a single person in Ellroy’s universe is a 100% straight, honest and likable. Weighed down by the brutal murder, everybody involved starts scheming to catch the killer, stay out of the police report or simply stay alive. Scenes heavy with dialogue, like the numerous interrogation sequences, become as brutal and spectacular as any hollywood action scene. Ellroy seems to refuse to make any compromises for readers faint of heart, resulting in a relentless tale that is brutal because it needs to be so and sometimes even goes a lot further than that.

The reason for all this relentless power is hidden underneath this story; Ellroy’s own trauma. His mother raped and murdered when he was ten, he never seemed able to handle just what happened. By discovering and exploring the Dahlia case that happened during his childhood not ten blocks from where he lived, gave Ellroy a way not only to discover the similarities between the lives of Short and that of his mother; but also to give the latter’s death a place in his life.
To have written a more accessible story, filled with compromises, would only have been a betrayal to himself. Ellroy’s anger and frustration are palpable in Bleichert’s moments of fury, when the detective is stumped for clues and labels himself an unfit cop, not smart enough to put the pieces together to solve this horrible case.

So in the end, ‘The Black Dahlia’ is not just a fantastic bit of brutal noir, a thrilling murder mystery; it is also a search for redemption, not just for its main characters but for the writer himself.
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12/26/2011 page 102
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