Tim's Reviews > The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
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really liked it
bookshelves: 1980s, mystery-crime, reviewed

On January 15, 1947 Elizabeth Short was found in an abandoned lot, severely mutilated and cut in two. Nicknamed the Black Dahlia in the press, she became a news sensation. It was a true crime, that was never solved. On the year of the 40th anniversary of the crime, James Ellroy gave a sense of (fictional) closure to the case with this masterful novel.

This is a story about obsession. People can be obsessed with many things; money, power… a good book, but in this case it’s a woman. A woman who most of our cast would never know until after she died. She becomes the mutual obsession of a select few who would always love her, and do anything to give her peace.

We follow Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, a former boxer, now a warrants officer in the LA PD. He is new to the position and his partner (also a former boxer) Lee Blanchard is showing him the ropes. As they begin looking for a man name Nash who killed an old woman, they stumble upon another crime scene that will take them down a dark and twisted path.

After a somewhat slow start I became engrossed with this novel. On the second day of reading, I was lost in the Dahlia case, reading over 150 pages before I finally made myself stop to get some sleep. The next day after work I stayed up till 1AM to finish it. I didn’t get much sleep due to an extremely early day after that, but I regret nothing. This is a stunning work, the first in Ellroy’s LA Quartet, and a set up of themes to come.

There are no true “good guys” in this book, and it is all the better for it. Unlike many books or movies I’ve seen that focus on crooked cops, we get a sense that the majority here want this case solved. For the most part, they’re not looking for a patsy, they want the real killer, and if that means using tough interrogations, breaking and entering and using a few drugs on people to get them to talk… well, the ends justify the means. The characters are all rather fascinating, deeply psychologically scarred, yet realistic in most of their actions; able to make you root for them one page and disgust you in another.

It probably goes without saying, but I will place a warning here for any readers on the fence about the book. There are some extremely disturbing moments in here… and not just the Dahlia’s crime scene. Some of the twist and turns that our detectives come across during the course of the novel are extremely unpleasant. It also uses realistic views and language for the time, so do not expect PC dialogue.

If none of that bothers you, do yourself a favor and pick this up now. You will be getting a truly wonderful novel filled with clever twists and suspense in equal measure. It has a bit of a rough opening, but once the Dahlia shows up, things move fast and even the quiet slow moments have a tremendous amount of tension to them.

In closing: this is a fantastic read. A wonderful piece of historic fiction and noir. Highly recommended to anyone with even the slightest interest after reading the plot description. I would give it 4.5 stars if Goodreads would let me, but I’ll stick with the 4 star rating as I do find it to have a few minor flaws… nothing big enough though that it should dissuade a reader.
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Reading Progress

August 2, 2018 – Started Reading
August 2, 2018 –
page 75
August 2, 2018 – Shelved
August 2, 2018 –
page 75
August 3, 2018 –
page 236
61.46% "I'm making my way through this much faster than expected. My copy of the next book in the series won't be here for several more days... I either need to slow down or read something else in-between.

I'm thinking the second option as I'm not likely to slow down much, and there's still so much time left today to keep reading..."
August 5, 2018 – Shelved as: 1980s
August 5, 2018 – Shelved as: mystery-crime
August 5, 2018 – Shelved as: reviewed
August 5, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Sheri (new)

Sheri Fantastic review, Tim!

message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. This is one of those novels that, despite a few flaws, I really cannot suggest enough. I'm looking forward to continuing reading the series as soon as the second book arrives in the mail. :)

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