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My Dark Places Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (August 19, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679762051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679762058
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 3.2 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

James Ellroy's trademark is his language: it is sometimes caustically funny and always brazen. When he's hitting on all cylinders, as he is in My Dark Places, his style makes punchy rhythms out of short sentences using lingo such as "scoot" (dollar), "trim" (sex), and "brace" (to interrogate). But the premise for My Dark Places is what makes it especially compelling: Ellroy goes back to his own childhood to investigate the central mystery behind his obsession with violence against women--the death of his mother when he was 10 years old. It's hard to imagine a more psychologically treacherous, more self-exposing way in which to write about true crime. The New York Times calls it a "strenuously involving book.... Early on, Mr. Ellroy makes a promise to his dead mother that seems maudlin at first: 'I want to give you breath.' But he's done just that and--on occasion--taken ours away."

From Publishers Weekly

Crime novelist Ellroy (American Tabloid) was 10 in 1958 when his mother, a divorced nurse and closet alcoholic, was found strangled to death in a deserted schoolyard in California's San Gabriel Valley. The case was still unsolved in 1994, when Ellroy hired retired L.A. homicide detective Bill Stoner to investigate. In this emotionally raw, hypnotic memoir, Ellroy ventures into the murky, Oedipal depths of his lifelong obsession with sex crimes and police work, setting his mother's murder against a grisly backdrop of similar L.A. homicides, from the 1947 Black Dahlia case (the subject of Ellroy's 1987 novel The Black Dahlia) to the indictment of O.J. Simpson. Ellroy recounts his troubled coming-of-age: in the wake of his mother's death, he immersed himself in the Nazi literature, petty theft, voyeurism, pornography and crime fiction that pollinated his flowering "tabloid sensibility." Eventually bottoming out on booze and drugs, he sobered up in AA and moved to the East Coast to write fiction. Returning to L.A., Ellroy culls LAPD archives to reconstruct the 1958 investigation of his mother's murder. While he fails to figure out who killed her, he unravels her secretive life, exploring the dalliances and weekend binges she hid from her son and ex-husband. If Baudelaire had produced an episode of Dragnet, it might have resembled the feverish, staccato way Ellroy confronts his mother's ghost, re-staging her murder with creepy meticulousness and addressing her repeatedly in the second person. Ellroy's degraded tough-guy shtick at times sounds disingenuously novelistic, and it occasionally gets mired in lists of sex crimes amassed from police archives. That the book lacks the closure or catharsis it sets out to achieve, however, is just one of the hard-won lessons of this deeply disquieting glimpse into Ellroy's heart of darkness and his ongoing battle with the past. Photos not seen by PW. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He is the author of the acclaimed L.A. Qurtet - The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz, as well as the Underworld USA trilogy: American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover. He is the author of one work of non-fiction, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Unforgettable book and writer!
P. Muraca
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others who enjoy non fiction crime books.
Thomas Grover
I don't think I'd want to be him or meet him, but I can read his books.
"kevarama"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Henry W. Wagner VINE VOICE on February 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
Readers often wonder what makes their favorite writers tick--we want to point to a significant moment in their lives, a single event which made them become writers. When asked this question, most authors tend to shrug it off, saying that they were always compelled to write. James Ellroy would answer the question differently, because he knows the defining event of his personal life and writing career. It happened in 1958, when he was ten: his mother, Jean, was found murdered, a nylon stocking and a cotton cord lashed around her neck. Her corpse was found in an ivy patch near a high school, looking, as Ellroy himself describes it, "like a classic late night body dump." Despite a thorough investigation, her murderer was never found.

When his mother died, Ellroy, the innocent victim of his parent's acrimonious divorce, was already well on the way to perfecting his "Crazy Man Act". Always somewhat of a misfit, Ellroy began to revel in his strangeness under his father's care. After his father's death seven years later, Ellroy spent the next thirteen years in a steep downward spiral, engaging in petty crime, serving jail time, and abusing drugs and alcohol. His only solace during this time were the wild fantasies he concocted in his head, and the crime novels which fueled those fantasies.

During those decades, Ellroy struggled with the memory of "the redhead", as he often refers to his mother. Outwardly professing to hate her, he was confused by his true feelings. These repressed emotions produced a life long obsession with crime and crime fiction, which eventually surfaced in the recurring themes present in many of his novels. "Her death corrupted my imagination and gave me exploitable gifts.
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Format: Paperback
Ellroy is an internationally best-selling crime author (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, etc.). He also grew out of true crime--his mother Jean Ellroy was assaulted, murdered, and had her body dumped in a ditch in 1958, when James was 10 years old. James's father poisoned him against his mother, portraying her as a drunken whore. The boy grew up a troublemaker and serious addict, stealing, burglarizing, lying, using, and living on the streets. Somehow (not covered in this book, to my disappointment), he got his life together, became a star as a crime novelist, and then decided to re-open the 30-year-old unsolved murder of his mother.

Ellroy himself admits that he had dubious motives for re-visiting his mother's murder case--he thought writing an article for GQ about his fascinating past would generate some excellent publicity for his upcoming novel. To his own surprise, Ellroy became engrossed in the dead-end case. He was mystified as the concept of his mother as anything other than a "drunken whore." Ellroy ends up partnering with seasoned homicide detective Bill Toner to re-open then case, investigate 30-year-old leads, trace old witnesses, and garner publicity for potential witnesses to come forward. During the course of the new investigation, Ellroy learns more than he planned about his mother's past, her motivations, and her heritage...which is his own heritage.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
James Ellroy's unique voice in contemporary crime fiction springs from events in his own life which are the basis for My Dark Places. This book reveals a tortured early life overshadowed by the murder of Ellroy's mother and subsequent contact with police along with an adolescent descent into petty crime and drug use. That the person portrayed in these pages manages to sublimate his demons and channel them into some of the best noir fiction ever written, is a remarkable human achievement. Those who love Ellroy's books should read this memoir for the insight into the man it provides and, also, for the pleasure of reading a real life version of what could easily be a typical Ellroy subplot to an L.A. mystery.
Really interesting stuff. Read this and you will know why Ellroy seems stuck in L.A. in another age - and why he can make it come to life with such power.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By mickdl@dynamite.com.au on October 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Both autobiography and biography, Ellroy narrates the account of his search for the truth behind his mother's murder in four parts. He begins with a cold journalistic account of the initial investigation that does not quite come off. In part two, he details a protracted adolescence that begins at age 9 when his mother is murdered and does not end until he is 30, in which his existence deteriorates into what call only be called depravity. The third part of the book delves into the life and career of real-life cop Bill Stoner and the beginning of the reinvestigation into the murder with Ellroy. The final part details his mother's life up until her murder, the outcome of the reinvestigation, the last murder case in the career of Stoner, and the trial of O.J. Simpson. This book is a must read for many reasons, but chiefly for its brutal honesty. Firstly, it is an unadulterated autobiographical account of the writer's complicated psychology and his descent into sexual perversion, drug addiction, alcoholism, and petty criminality. Rarely do we admit these to our close family and friends let alone an international audience and certainly not with the perceptiveness and brilliant narrative that Ellroy is capable of. Secondly, nobody knows the mind of cops like Ellroy. His are like no others described in fiction or fact, they are flawed geniuses that demand condemnation and sympathy simultaneously.
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