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Showing 1-10 of 145 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 342 reviews
on February 11, 2015
Another brutal story, well told by Ellroy. Like LA Confidential, this may not be to everyone's taste, even to those who enjoy crime and noir, but it's certainly very good at what it is.

Also like LA Confidential, the story is set within the LA Police Department, following two main characters, Bucky Bleichart and Lee Blanchard, through their investigations of a tortured and murdered young woman. There are no angels in the story -- Bleichart and Blanchard lead twisted lives on the point of breaking, and the victim, Elizabeth Short, was broken well before her murder.

The story follows obsessions. Neither Bleichart nor Blanchard is a homicide detective, but, in their own ways, neither can look away from the Short murder. Blanchard's girlfriend, Kay, is drawn into the story as well, with her own twisted and nearly broken background. As the story escalates, so do the obsessions, with a kind of apocalyptic feel for the lives of everyone involved. We follow Bleichart though one more dark layer after another, tied together by Blanchard's advice, "Cherchez la femme, Bucky. Remember that."

In a very revealing Afterword to the book, Ellroy himself describes the story as set among "psychically maimed misfits running from World War II." He also gives us insight into his own obsession with the story, based on a true event -- a story he felt compelled to tell because of his own dark experiences. It's really pretty dark all the way down, from the true event, to the author, to the novel itself.

The characters in the story are constantly tested, and many if not most fail. That's what makes the book both hard to take but also hard to look away from. It tests our baser instincts.
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on June 17, 2016
I bought the Kindle version, but added the audio to it and ended up listening because of the excellent narration. I am still reeling from the author's powerful prose. Excellent "film noir" atmosphere - the narrator's performance was absolutely superb! His voice was so versatile and compelling, it really made me stick with this book. I know I would have put it down if I was just reading by myself. His voice and the narrative take you right back to the 1940's, right after WWII. The writing is excellent - the subject matter is almost beyond a nightmare, not for faint hearted. The narrative is gritty, somewhat pornographic and definitely not of our politically correct times. I have to admit I found parts of it offensive. It was not easy to listen to, but the dialogue sounded authentic to how policemen must have spoke at the time.
The storyline had so many highs and lows - twists and turns, especially near the end!
This book is a work of fiction, based on two murders, one famous murder of a young woman in California and another murder of the author' s own mother. It's not just a crime drama, it's a study of obsession, guilt and redemption.
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on July 27, 2017
The title, "The Black Dahlia" has been familiar to me for many years, but it is a movie based on a different James Ellroy novel, "L.A. Confidential", that inspired my decision to read Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, "The Black Dahlia", "The Big Nowhere", "L.A. Confidential", and "White Jazz". The movie, "L.A. Confidential" is my favorite noir/crime movie of all time. I chose to read the quartet from which the movie came because a friend had sent me several murder mystery novels, thus whetting my appetite for a type of reading that wasn't previously on my agenda.

As it turns out, "The Black Dahlia" is well written, a "page-turner", and mostly fascinating. I almost gave it only 4 stars because of the level of violence and excessively gory details, but the writing is strong enough to get past those objections. Still, after reading "The Black Dahlia", I'm reading a less violent novel before beginning "The Big Nowhere".
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VINE VOICEon July 25, 2013
This book is truly a masterpiece not only of the genre, but of literature. It is, like many masterpieces, a difficult read.

As others have said, this is a complete novel. It's complex. The plot weaves around and resolves well, if not in the best taste. The writing is crisp but not staccato. You can get details from other four or five star reviews.

So where is the difficult? It was, for this reviewer, in several areas. The first is the book is written in genuine 1940's American-ese which apparently used an utterly different idiom than modern American-ease. For example, what does it mean when a bunch of street bums 'wave their short dogs' at police? What is the 'high sign'? (No, it's not the middle finger salute - that made no sense in context).

All too often the author goes on for a few pages and then concludes with one of these obsolete sayings or doings meaning the naive reader would lose the entire meaning of those pages. I'd have liked to have seen a glossary.

The next issue is the motivation of the characters. None of them made any sense to me. I couldn't see real people behaving this way in reaction to events. Here's one small thing. The police mount a huge strike force to solve a murder but the investigation reveals the victim to be a nasty exploitative prostitute (for some reason, the author turned the real victim into this). I have a tough time believing that the 40's L.A. police would go all out for months to solve the murder of a prostitute.

Worse, the characters' reactions to this victim made little sense but no less sense than how they react to each other. That was all true until the afterward of this edition when the author revealed, in such frank detail, why he wrote as he wrote, that for a bit, I thought I was reading a suicide note. I had a tough time believing anybody could be so honest about his inner thoughts and then just go in with life, but the author did.

The afterward pulled the whole book together for me and suddenly, upon reading these last 15 or so pages, the previous 300 or so pages came into sharp focus.

Part procedural, part psycho drama literature and all superb. Highly recommended.
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on April 19, 2016
My second Ellroy (before this, I read Clandestine). In retrospect, I feel like I should have liked it more than I did, given the very personal nature of the book to Ellroy. It has all the elements of a brilliant noir: a convoluted plot involving a salacious, brutal murder, serpentine female characters and the hard-bitten police officers (marshmallows inside) who love them/are obsesssed with them, the seemy side to the glittering facade that is L.A. Yet all of this just didn't add up for me; I didn't care about the characters as much as I have for those in Chandler, Cain, and Hammett's novels. Despite the 40's setting, there's something vaguely contemporary about the story that felt slightly...cheesy, rather than noir.
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on January 6, 2015
My first run at James Ellroy. It's long overdue, since LA Confidential is probably my favorite crime movie of all time.

The Black Dahlia is the first of his "LA Quartet" series, to which LA Confidential also belongs. I'm excited to get into the rest of these now -- I hate to go to cliches, but if ever there was a page-turner, this is one. It's a genre-bending noire centered on the investigation of a pretty nasty 1947 murder in Los Angeles. It's part whodunit, part psychological thriller and part period-based cop procedural.

It's also twisty as hell. The characters follow pretzels rather than arcs but they stay true, and every time you think you're figuring something out or seeing a piece of the bigger picture, it turns out you're looking into a fun house mirror. The first-person narrator is a young cop who wants badly to do the right thing but often doesn't -- you never really know what he's going to do.

So there's a sincere lack of whimsy here, which I'm good with. The cops are rough-edged and at least corrupt-ish, with smart cops, good cops, dumb cops, bully cops... and every possible combination thereof. Even the good ones blatantly break the law repeatedly and sometimes even brutally. The LA/Hollywood setting is dark and mean and mostly crushes dreams for its daily bread. Bigoted vernacular is the only vernacular. It's dark. And occasionally gruesome. And morbid.

And so, so good.
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on May 22, 2017
I like crime novels. I also like literary novels. I occasionally like literary crime novels. This doesn't succeed at being either.

I usually read a book a week - this one has taken me 3 weeks, I'm only 75% of the way through, and I don't even care about finishing it. I have no problem with books that are dark or that have unlikable characters; in fact, those types of books often appeal to me. But this book is just flat out boring and every time I attempt to read a few pages, I become too bored to focus. I decided to read this because another author I admire mentioned that Ellroy was one of his favorite authors. Maybe this just isn't his best work, because this one's a dud. There's a plethora of great crime fiction out today, I would advise choosing something else.
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on April 20, 2014
For those who are wondering, like I was, 'Should I give this Ellroy guy a chance?'...do! There's not much out there like it, for better or for worse. This was my first time reading Ellroy, and it is every bit as gruesome but compelling as I expected.
What you should know is that this is as much about the detectives as it is about the victim, but I like that. I think it is interesting and refreshing when you see the toll a case can have on the police themselves - so often fictional detectives, especially on popular US TV series, callously go from one murder scene to the next, almost tongue in cheek, sometimes making jokes over corpses, 'the will-they/won't-they?' romance between the protagonists seemingly more important than the fact that somebody's been killed and their families lives destroyed. This novel, on the other hand, is an attempt to really engage with the horror of what a murder must be.
Despite a slow start, the narrative soon catches fire. I made a conscious effort not to finish reading before the end of my holiday, yet I couldn't help racing through! But this novel will not be for everyone - for those who prefer their leisurely Inspector Morse mysteries, you might not like this. Gory, gritty, explicit - I must admit, even I, a seasoned crime reader, came away a little nauseated, and wondering what exactly must be going on in Mr. Ellroy's head (I think I understand why his memoir is called 'My Dark Places.') And I don't understand why ALL the characters, almost without fail, seem to be utterly unpleasant; either excessively violent or racist or corrupt...I understand Ellroy wants to recreate a time and a place, they don't call it noir for no reason, and I'm sure 1940s LA could be rough, but is this even plausible? And do I really need such unpleasantness in my reading?
Interesting characters, intricate twists, burning questions right until the end, and bruising prose - for fans of gritty crime, noir and mystery, I strongly recommend.
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on June 4, 2016
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy is an intense, action-packed page turner. Even though the unsolved murder case from the 1940's has received a lot of coverage, Ellroy's book brings it to life with beautifully drawn characters. I gave it five stars.

I purchased this on sale & read it in one sitting. Bucky Bleichert & Lee Blanchard, ex-prize fighting boxers turned cops are now partners. They explore this grisly torture killing. It has far reaching consequences. It is a haunting story.

"I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them. Working backwards, seeking only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl & a whore, at best a could-have-been--a tag that could also be applied to me."

The language was rough but true to the times.

Link to purchase: The Black Dahlia
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on November 28, 2014
James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia is a fictionalized account of the real life murder of Elizabeth Short. Short’s body was found in an abandoned field near the famous Hollywood sign on January 15, 1947. Despite a long and public investigation, the murder remains unsolved to this day. It is one of the most famous unsolved cases in American history.
The novel follows Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, an officer known more for his prowess in the boxing ring than his ability to uphold the law. He becomes partners with Lee Blanchard, a well-known and respected officer who is rising quickly in the police department. Bucky learns quickly at the hands of the more experienced Lee. He also falls in love with Lee’s live-in girlfriend, Kay Lake, a woman Lee met when he arrested and testified against her ex-boyfriend.
While investigating another crime, Bucky and Lee are among the first officers to respond when the body of Elizabeth Short is found. She has been mutilated and cut in half. Also, her mouth has been slashed open from ear to ear. Bucky and Lee are transferred to the case, and Lee becomes obsessed with finding the killer. His sister was murdered when he was a child, and Bucky believes Lee’s unwavering focus on the case is a result. Bucky instantly wants to be off the case, but in compromise he promises Lee one week on the case.
The investigation uncovers many unsavory details about Elizabeth, who was known by many aliases. Elizabeth was a liar who used men for her own ends and was obsessed with becoming a Hollywood star despite her lack of talent. Betty, as she was more commonly known, also appeared in a pornographic movie. However, all evidence that painted Betty in a questionable light was swept under the rug by the Assistant District Attorney, who wanted to find the killer of the "innocent" Betty in order to further his future political career.
Bucky remains on the case for months, despite the disappearance of his partner. He becomes involved in the conspiracy to hide evidence when he engages in an affair with Madeleine Sprague, a Black Dahlia look alike, in exchange for making certain her name remains out of the investigation. Bucky and the other officers investigate thousands of leads; however, none lead to the capture of the murderer.
Bucky is eventually taken off the case, but his obsession with the murder victim permeates all aspects of his life, including his marriage. Bucky investigates the murder even when he is off duty. His marriage suffers and eventually dissolves as he becomes further and further enmeshed in the life and murder of Elizabeth Short.
Eventually, Bucky’s investigation leads him to a bungalow in Hollywood, where it appears the investigation comes to an end. However, the haunting image in a painting leads Bucky to uncover a larger conspiracy, one in which he serves as an unwitting participant. The real killer is someone Bucky never suspected, and the conspiracy to conceal the killer’s connection to Betty could cost Bucky his career.
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