Toby's Reviews > The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
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bookshelves: black-as-night

This sure is a bleak one and that's an understatement. Aside from the unnecessary opening section focussing on the evolution of the partnership and an interminable chapter giving a blow by blow account of a boxing match this is pretty much classic Ellroy.

This is a true noir, not hard-boiled or pulpy but a story as black and self-destructive as they come. The memoir of a cop making bad choices, knowing that he is making them and unable to stop his own fate; leaving out the existential malaise that usually afflicts the protagonist in these stories and replacing it with a brutal and hard edged look at the underbelly of L.A. in the late 1940's.

Ellroy takes the mood of something like Edward G. Ulmer's classic 1945 poverty row noir Detour and adds everything that they weren't allowed to show back then with this psychological character study. This is what makes him stand out from the crowd. On face value this could be taken as a police procedural novel but if you look beyond the stumbling detection plot you are invited in to a journey filled with depravity and weak willed men and the death of a beautiful yet impure girl used as a background or excuse for their behaviour.

Aside from that opening section there are few things that I had a problem with which caused the low rating, primarily that of the behaviour of the protagonist Bucky. We are consistently told that he has an obsession with the murdered girl but at no point did I ever know why or feel as if it was a natural progression of his character. He is a cop, he wants to solve the murder, he wants to investigate other crimes, it's just another murder and then all of a sudden, with no warning and no explanation he is fantasising about the girl and obsessing over the case. In his later work I think Ellroy got much better at this aspect of explaining his protagonists behaviour but for this one, sadly it was lacking.

I don't think I can let the review go by without mentioning the movie. It wasn't very good was it. I saw it first and knew it wasn't a very good adaptation. Initially whilst reading I thought it was because it was too faithful to the novel but as I came to the end I realised that I coudn't remember much of it from the film so that clearly wasn't it. The movie was bad but then I don't think this novel really lends itself to a good movie adaptation and in this age of any old hack (Suzanne Collins being the most recent example) writing a novel filled with cliches just so they can sell the movie rights that might not vibe but what's wrong with a book being written just to be an enjoyable book and nothing more?

To ape the man: Vibe! I enjoyed this book. Buy! This book. Read! About filth, bent cops, dead girls, psychotic killers and gratuitous political glad-handing. Don't! Keep it hush-hush. Give! A copy to everyone.
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Reading Progress

September 26, 2011 – Shelved
February 21, 2012 – Started Reading
February 21, 2012 –
page 85
22.14%
February 21, 2012 –
page 124
32.29%
February 22, 2012 –
page 211
54.95%
February 23, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Krycek (new)

Krycek Dig! This review.
I think I have a copy in storage. I gotta read it, man.


Toby Heh thanks.
Is Krycek your real name or a reference to something awesome, like a rubber armed alien sympathiser?


message 3: by Krycek (new)

Krycek Tfitoby wrote: "Heh thanks.
Is Krycek your real name or a reference to something awesome, like a rubber armed alien sympathiser?"


Haha, no. Not my real name. But I did know a guy named Nemecek once.


Toby Great blend of nemesis and krycek there. I may use it as the name of my next villain.


James Thane Yeah, Ellroy does not write a lot of cheery, uplifting books!


David Billow "We are consistently told that he has an obsession with the murdered girl but at no point did I ever know why or feel as if it was a natural progression of his character." This.


S.P. Aruna I felt the same way about the character's incomprehensible obsession with a strange dead girl.


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