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My Dark Places

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  6,209 ratings  ·  444 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 te
Hardcover, 427 pages
Published November 5th 1996 by Random House Value Publishing
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  6,209 ratings  ·  444 reviews

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Bobby Underwood
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Because there is no secret what this book is about, I didn’t feel the need to mark it as containing spoilers. If, however, you are coming at this book cold, and don’t know the well-publicized story of Ellroy’s dark past, you might want to skip this review.

While I loved the film adaptation of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, I must confess that he isn’t a favorite of mine. But I am aware of his work and have read enough to know he’s certainly got something, even if it isn't my cup of tea. In essence,
Oct 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
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
Paul Bryant

A transcendent high-octane memoir that burns all other memoirs to the ground. A five star must read.


Rereading nonfiction is a rarity for me but for the second time this stunning book left me convinced that James Ellroy is one of the Greatest Living Authors. And yet

And yet

I do not read James Ellroy novels. I’ve only read two and abandoned a third. Why is this ?

It’s because Ellroy went TOO FAR. There are authors who go TOO FAR. James Joyce went mad and wrote Fi
For the core depth to the personality and life record of James Ellroy this gets a 5 star. For the writing style and word craft aspect of its exhaustion to that prime cause, it gets a 1 star. YES, this is that EXTREME example of a book, non-fiction or not, that in varying aspects can be rated at both ends of the spectrum. If it is the enjoyment factor that is central to the star level, then it would also be various, IMHO. At times the read was a 4 plus, and at others a 2 at the very most. There i ...more
Nov 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Searing look into the tortured life one of crime fiction's most talented authors, James Ellroy. Obsessed with the murder of his mother at a mere 10 years old, it was the fulcrum crisis on which his life hinged, starting a serious downward spiral that almost led to his own demise. Manipulated by his wastrel father all his life, Ellroy soon became a thief, a burglar, a stalker, a drug addict and a vagrant.

Ellroy writes in his usual staccato style, bare and concise, that keeps the pages turning. Hi
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: Abailart and others
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Ade Bailey
Mar 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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

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
Lee Klein
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Rebecca Huston
This one is dark, dark, dark. Not for the sensitive or squeamish to read. It is also insightful and disturbing, and very enlightening about surviving trauma and the forms it takes. I would recommend it, but be warned, this is not an easy read.

For the longer review, please go here:
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Narrative was my moral language.

James Ellroy's mother, Geneva "Jean" Hilliker Ellroy, was murdered in 1958. Her murder went unsolved, and her son spent his succeeding decades in the shadow of that event and its lack of resolution. By 1996, when Ellroy published My Dark Places, the only resolution left was longing and the drive to understand. It's not spoiling anything to say that though this memoir in part chronicles Ellroy's attempt--aided by Bill Stoner, cold-case cop extraordinaire--to find t
Erin Martin
May 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Absolutely no one!
Recommended to Erin by: Thankfully no one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 18, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not only DNF, but I want to personally travel the world to projectile vomit on every extant copy of this disgusting piece of creepy misogynist trash.
Katherine Addison
I don't actually like Ellroy, and I think this book shows me why. It is a memoir, both of Ellroy's childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and of his investigation into his mother's murder. Ellroy is very hard-boiled. He talks tough. It's hard to tell whether he himself is racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, or whether he's acutely self-aware and holding up a mirror to our society. I found My Dark Places less relentlessly noir than L.A. Confidential or the other Ellroy book I've read, the nam ...more
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
Kristi Lamont
I cannot rate this book. I hated it. But also hated that I couldn't quit reading it. I hated the writing style, I hated the content, I hated the whole Los Angeles as a character aspect of it, I hated that James Ellroy not only went to his "dark places" but dragged me there with him. (Some things? Some things just aren't meant to be shared.) So disturbing I had to actually stop in the middle of reading it and ingest some chick-lit cotton candy silliness in order to give myself a break from the bl ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think anyone interested in reading this book you be well served to be warned about what they are getting into. This is not a light read. This is not the kind of book you skim and read on a beach. This is not a book that will bring you the tiniest degree of joy or happiness. You should still read it.
Written as a book length extension of a magazine piece he did investigating the brutal murder of his mother 40 years earlier, Ellroy holds nothing back here. If the purpose of memoir is catharsis
David Groves
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
I started reading this book a couple days ago, and was riveted for a few pages. However, bit by bit, my interest flagged, until finally now, at page 97, I'm giving up on it. I don't see my interest in the book surging because I don't like where he's going with the whole thing.

Ellroy started out giving a detailed account of the murder, starting out with the discovery of the corpse by some Little League baseball players and their fathers, and then the police coming and trying to figure out the wom
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bernard Rodriguez
Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing

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
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, crime-noir
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.
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Intense. Really intense. I was constantly surprised about how transparent Ellroy was about his feelings for his mother (*uncomfortable cough*) and his harrowing early adulthood - being a homeless, drug addicted burglar in 60s, 70s LA. He should probably be dead. It's random that he isn't.

At age 10, Ellroy's mother is murdered while he is spending his usual custody weekend with his father. It's grim and heartbreaking. But young Lee Earle (a name he hated and later changed,) has a very unusual rea
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
Jonathan Anderson
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Rex Fuller
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
My Dark Places gets a little tedious by the end, both the writing style and the wheel spinning in regard to Ellroy's mother's case. I wish that more had come from the Jean Ellroy re-investigation, but it's interesting to see all of the other cases profiled and their outcomes (if they managed to catch the perpetrators). There's also a good history of the San Gabriel Valley at the time. ...more
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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

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