The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Elizabeth Short is found murdered and LAPD detectives Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard catch the case. Can Bleichert and Blanchard bring in her killer before the case destroys them both?
Some time around 2005, my local bookstore owner pushed this on me. At the time, the only detective books I'd read were The Maltese Falcon and a few Hard Case books. It took me a week to get through but it felt like spending a month in jail. The Black Dahlia was a game changer for me, a powerful book that made me see detective fiction in a different light. When it went on sale on the Kindle for $1.99 (and Kemper also started reading it), I figured it was time for a reread.
As I've said many times before, the magic of getting older is that old books become completely new books. I'd forgotten most of what transpired in The Black Dahlia so it was like being tied up and dragged down a gravel road all over again.
The Black Dahlia is the rise and fall of detective Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, and Elizabeth Short, the dead woman who ultimately did him and his partner, Lee Blanchard, in. Bleichert and Blanchard bond over boxing and wind up being partners in Warrants until Elizabeth Short is found dead and mutilated, cut in half on the sidewalk. Both men wind up entangled with Elizabeth Short for different reasons. Blanchard wants to avenge her to make up for the sister he once lost and Bucky takes up when Lee goes missing.
This book is as noir as it comes, full of obsession, lies, death, sex, murder, pornography, and more lies and obsession. As with most books of this type, the mystery is eventually solved but not without costing everyone involved damn near everything in the process.
In the decade since I last read this, I've become desensitized by reading hundreds of crime books and been made more cynical by life in general but this book still packs one hell of a wallop. Much like Bucky, I was pretty obsessed by Elizabeth Short's murder and couldn't put the book down, as cliche as that sounds. Just like the first time I read it, I felt like I'd spent a few nights in jail when I was done, wrung out and ready for a couple beers.
Something else the passage of time has given me is how much Ellroy writes like a much darker Raymond Chandler. Ellroy's similes kick like an unlicensed .45 a cop carries just for emergencies and Dwight Bleichert is one of the most well-crafted characters in crime fiction. Lee Blanchard is not without his nuances, either. The relationship between Bucky, Kay, and Lee really lent itself to some crazy shit.
Honestly, the only thing I can think of to complain about is that Blanchard and Bleichert's names are too similar. The Black Dahlia is a must-read for all serious crime fiction fans. Five out of five stars.
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