The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia is my first read from James Ellroy and the opening novel of the L.A quartet of which L.A Confidential is the third in the series, both taken to the big screen. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940's, the story is told through the eyes of Bucky Bleichert an LAPD officer and former boxer. He unwittingly finds himself in the middle of some political manoeuvring when a boxing match is arranged between himself and warrant officer Lee Blanchard.


They become friends and partners in the homicide division, an interesting relationship with Lee's partner Kay playing off both sides like a pinball.


The murder of the black dahlia, Elizabeth Short is of course one of the most famous unsolved murders cases around. She disappeared and was found brutalized, drained of blood. Bucky and Lee happen to be in the area on another case when the body is discovered and the resulting media circus creates immediate pressure to solve the case. The vast majority of L.A's finest are drafted onto the case, including our two pugilistic warrior cops and it becomes a powerfully fascinating crime thriller.


The atmosphere is perfect and indicative of the era, from the seedy bars to the less than honest actions of certain officers of the LAPD, in fact strike that, they’re all dodgy fuckers without an honest bone in their bodies. There is an overwhelming feeling of obsession, with a dark and moody backdrop. Both Lee and Bucky are totally consumed with the case, lost to it in different ways, as each spirals out of control and skeletons come creeping stealthily out of closets.


The strength of the characters is compelling, defined and complex, as is their deterioration, alcohol, sex and inner torment all play there part. Bucky takes up with a sexy socialite who even looks like the Black Dahlia, another step in his obsession as the case twists and turns, tangled even, seemingly forever unresolved.


Extremely well written, fractionally labouring at times but I think the audio narrated by the fantastic Tom Stechschulte more than made up for it. James Ellroy writes from the darker side of crime fiction which it just so happens is exactly what I'm looking for in a murder mystery. I enjoyed the boxing match between the two friends, one a big puncher the other a more skilled boxer and the actions of Bucky Bleichert around the fight set the tone for both their actions to come.