4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good Slice of Noir, Shame About the Ending,
This review is from: The Black Dahlia (Paperback)
James Ellroy's fictional take on the real murder of Elizabeth Short comes as the first novel in his LA Quartet. Having previously read 'LA Confidential' and enjoying the writer's taut, stylized prose and dedication to the noir genre, I thought his account of a famously unsolved crime would be an interesting avenue to take.
Ex-soldier turned cop Bucky Bleichert narrates the story as he is partnered up with fellow detective Lee Blanchard, by way of a boxing match and much political manoeuvre by the powers that be. It is down to the same people-on-high that they get embroiled in the case involving the Black Dahlia, a woman brutally murdered and mutilated, with a reputation that precedes her. Hundreds of policemen are tasked to the case as it is lived out through the press, but as leads fade away and interest wanes, the Dahlia seems destined to become one more unsolved death. Bucky is left with Blanchard, his partner and best friend who is deeply disturbed by the case and unable to leave it alone. He also has his own dark problems involving an odd love triangle between himself, Lee and Lee's live-in girlfriend, encounters with a mysterious rich woman, not to mention a growing obsession with the murdered Betty Short herself.
All the hallmarks of the noir genre are here, Ellroy evidently works hard to create an atmosphere akin to the novels of the time. His writing is skilled and muscular and the dialogue snappy and evocative. The characters are suitably flawed: the white knight cop navigating a murky world, the man with a past that he cannot forget, sleazy power-hungry authority figures and the misused, damaged women with both good and bad intentions. The writer knows what he is doing and paints a powerful picture of post-war Los Angeles and it's teeming underbelly. It is not a forensic reworking of the police case, nor really a historical account, so anyone expecting much by the way of hard fact should look into non-fiction instead. What it is, at first, is a fast-paced, efficient novel with a great plot and complex characters and if it had ended where I felt the character arcs naturally came to an end, it would have earned itself five stars.
What follows this is a tacked-on ending to 'solve' the case which feels rushed and for the most part unbelievable. Obviously it is fiction because the case was never solved, but the way Ellroy ties it all up is very unconvincing. I will give no spoilers here, but I felt that the book went on that 100 pages too long and those pages were spent on a conclusion that was awkward, confused and totally unnecessary. Ironically it would have been more satisfying if in this case, the Black Dahlia had stayed as she has been captured in history, forever a mystery.