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True Confessions: A Novel Paperback – December 21, 2005

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About the Author

John Gregory Dunne was the author of six novels—Vegas; True Confessions; Dutch Shea, Jr.; The Red White and Blue; Playland; and Nothing Lost—and seven works of nonfiction, among which are the memoir-like Harp and two books that look at Hollywood, The Studio and Monster. Born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1932, he graduated from Princeton in 1954. He collaborated with his wife, the writer Joan Didion, on many screenplays, including Panic in Needle Park and True Confessions. John Gregory Dunne died in December 2003.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (December 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560258152
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560258155
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 1997
Format: Paperback
"True Confessions" wraps a first-rate murder mystery inside a complex family drama that transpires within the genteel power of the Catholic Church. The story is made memorable (and frequently hilarious) by John Gregory Dunne's chuckle-a-page expositions of Irish Catholic foibles. Lt. Tom Spellacy of the LAPD, a semi-corrupt but competent detective, jousts with his partner, his superiors in the department, and his brother, the Rt. Rev. Msr. Desmond Spellacy, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Dunne is to Irish Catholics as Philip Roth is to Eastern European Jews, and "True Confessions" is Dunne's "Goodbye Columbus"--a must-read.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gregory M. Wasson on June 5, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Several previous reviewers have mentioned that they regularly go back and reread this book, and I count myself among them. "True Confessions" is in fact a triumph and John Gregory Dunne's best work. When it is said that a good novel by a "genre" writer "transcends the genre," it usually means that the author has written a novel good enough to be judged apart from that genre. In "True Confessions," John Gregory Dunne writes a book that achieves the status of literature while deliberately staying within the conventions of the detective novel, a much more difficult task indeed.

The plot of "True Confessions," as one previous reviewer noted, is really a MacGuffin for an exploration of the author's more serious concerns. The story revolves around a fictional version of the real-life murder of a woman in the 1940s in Los Angeles, the "Black Dahlia" case. Detective Tom Spellacy catches the case, which through sensational newspaper stories catches the popular imagination, and with it the pressure to solve the case.

Tom sees himself as a failure, a one-time boxer with a glass jaw, now an LAPD detective trapped in a loveless marriage with a wife slowly losing her mind, a kid who never met a candy bar she didn't like, and a guilty conscience not entirely undeserved. His brother Monsignor Desmond "Des" Spellacy, by contrast, is bright, likeable, and ambitious, pious and practical at the same time. He is the handsome war veteran, the "Parachuting Padre," who has set his sights on a Bishop's miter and perhaps a Cardinal's hat. He is charismatic and careful, as he makes his way through the duties of life as a professional Catholic.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By neverwithoutespresso on September 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I love this book. I have read it many times and still continue to read it. Why?

I love the protagonist, a cynical, hard-boiled Irish cop who picks up on every defect of everyone he meets and offers up a wisecrack that makes you laugh out loud. If he can substitute a street word for any noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, or conjunction, he does--but in such a precise context and rhythm that it makes sheer poetry.

This book is not for the squeamish--he uses four-letter words, racial slurs, racial epithets. He includes people of his own Irish-Catholic background. As a matter of fact, they are often the focus of his caustic observations. I love every minute of it. I eat it up. Like I said, it's sheer, stimulating poetry--it's like a whiff of salt breeze or the sting of salt water on an open wound; it's like a very dry martini.

Then there's the fact that Dunne has created a noir novel that is exactly like film noir. It envelops you like an L.A. fog and never really dissolves. L.A. in the 1940s was the perfect setting for noir--as Roman Polanski proved in his great film CHINATOWN. Like all great writing, Dunne produces this aura as if by magic.

So if you've ever ridden in a squad car, dressed in a silent-movie vamp costume, on a Halloween night in the city, because you've lost your way and the cops are trying to keep you out of harm's way, but they can't resist turning the red light on and blowing the siren, and taking you along on a few calls on the way home just to show off; if you've ever hitchhiked on the Jersey Turnpike and been picked up by a cop, and ended up havin g a conversation about all the important things until day breaks and he brings you to a truck stop; if you have a soft spot for cops; if you don't mind bad language; if you like mysteries; if you have a sense of humor; if you love noir, you might give this book a try. I think it is a masterpiece.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a deeply thoughtful novel that is also terrifically funny. It is a wonderful mystery that is also a profound exploration of how power corrupts in the most subtle ways. And it is a great period piece about Los Angeles 50 years ago.
The dialog is superb; the characters are believable; and the struggle for truth and hope come to matter to the reader. And after you've read the book, watch the movie: DeNiro and Duvall give the performances of their lives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
The real-life Black Dahlia murder has been the basis for thousands of pages of speculation, and the inspiration for several novels, including this one. The book opens with a section called "Now" (roughly 1975), in which we meet the two protagonists, Irish-Catholic brothers Tommy and Des Spellacy, as the former drives to a rundown church in the California desert to meet the latter. It becomes clear that Des used to be a bigwig in the Los Angeles Archdiocese before something happened 28 years ago to cast him into this humble exile. The bulk of the story then returns to the postwar Los Angeles of 1947 and the severed corpse of a young woman that is the catalyst for what happens to the two brothers.

Tommy is homicide detective who catches this gruesome case, and although the book is at least partially a police procedural that follows him as him slowly works the murder, Dunne is really just using genre as an outfit to dress up an almost classical story of brotherly resentment, sin, and the limitations of redemption. It really speaks to his abilities as a writer that he's able to pull off a stylish period crime story, complete with rat-a-tat slang, while simultaneously creating two compelling character portraits of self-aware and self-loathing men. As Tommy has to grapple with his superior's ambitions to become the next police chief, so too must Des navigate the exceedingly treacherous waters of Catholic church politics and the practicalities of getting things done. Both brothers are keen-eyed observers of the weaknesses of others, and don't hesitate to use that knowledge in the service of their own agendas.
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