This is a confusing one to review. I can’t call Ellroy’s Black Dahlia entertaining because the story is so brutal, misogynist, racist, and disturbing. It is, however, compelling. Just like the characters in the book, I couldn’t leave the mystery alone. Who was the Black Dahlia? Who killed her? Why? The book is unsettling, and necessarily so. I wouldn’t recommend reading it if the topics of rape or other forms of brutality are topics best not brought up for you at this time.
While this book is a work of fiction, it is based around the real “Black Dahlia” murder. (In 1947, Elizabeth “Betty” Short was murdered, mutilated, and left out on the open in Los Angeles.) The protagonist and narrator is Bucky Bleichart, a former boxer turned ambitious L.A.P.D. officer. He gains notoriety in the department due to his boxing success, is paired up with another boxing officer (they’re known as Mr. Fire & Mr. Ice), and the Dahlia case consumes both of their lives. The book chronicles the unraveling of Bleichart and seemingly everyone else coming into contact with the Dahlia case.
The Black Dahlia was published in the late 1980s, but the version I read had an afterward written by Ellmore in 2006. He discusses the Brian de Palma movie adaptation of bis book a bit, but more than that he discusses how his novel is fiction, biography, and autobiography. Ellmore’s own mother was raped and murdered, and Ellmore’s exploration of the Dahlia case was also an exploration of his own mother’s life and death as well as their complicated oedipal relationship. After meditating on the author’s own reflection, the reader can understand more about the Bucky Bleichart’s obsession with the case and the debt he felt he owed to Betty Short.
Not a fun read, but a memorable one. I know my next few days will be spent mulling over Ellmore’s observations on fame, idolisation, ambition, obsession, and finding meaning in the midst of it all.