THE BLACK DAHLIA by James Ellroy


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Tim real-life unsolved "Black Dahlia" case (L.A., 1947), source material for several novels and films, get another go. round from hard boiler Ellroy (Blood on the Moon, Because the Night), in a long, earnest, overwrought novel that concentrates on the dark psychosexual hangups of two L.A.P.D. cops. The narrator is "Bucky" Bleichert, who, together with partner Lee Blanchard (his one-time pro-boxing rival), is assigned to work with Homicide when the mutilated body of trampy, pathetic, would-be actress Betty Short is found in a vacant L.A. lot. Blanchard is instantly obsessed with the Dahlia (as the papers soon dub Betty), because of guilt over his kid sister's bygone murder. Bucky becomes obsessed, too, especially once he starts sleeping with Dahlia lookalike Madeleine, a decadent rich girl who once had a lesbian fling with the Dahlia. Blanchard goes berserk, disappears, and later turns up dead in Mexico. Despite much triangular sturm, Bucky marries Blanchard's gift. And eventually, after the primary clues in the Dahlia case run dry (boyfriends, porno flicks), Bucky starts uncovering one nasty secret after another--corruption, perversion, coverups, family skeletons--until he finds the place where the Dahlia was tortured and butchered. . .and confronts the killer. Ellroy writes with undeniable energy, striving for down and-dirty textures and a raw emotional edge. But while some individual vignettes deliver the intended impact, the overall effect is unconvincing and shrill--with too many psychos per square chapter and too many lapses into stagily lurid narration. (". . .My voice came back in racking fits, 'I'll get him for you, he won't hurt you anymore, I'll make it up to you, oh Betty Jesus fuck I will.'")
Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1987


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