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Twisted, Broken Lives Beautifully Told
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.