Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"The Black Dahlia" by James Ellroy

I first heard of The Black Dahlia when my freak of a friend posted horrifying pictures of Elizabeth Short's mutilated corpse on his facebook page. (Yeah, I have great friends.) If you have kinder, gentler friends who haven’t kept you in the loop, you may not know that the crime in this book is based on actual events, though much of the investigation is fictional.

After seeing those photos (which my lovely friend tagged as “road kill”), I decided I wasn't interested in watching the 2006 movie. I assumed it focused on the repulsive details of the poor girl’s torture and murder. My mind drew parallels to the movie Seven, which--while being a highly suspenseful thriller--left me with the thoroughly depressing feeling of "what is wrong with humanity?"

But I was curious enough to read the book, which I figured wouldn't be quite as bad as the movie in terms of sickening visual images that can be so difficult to expunge from my mind. And it was kind of nice to find that the novel didn’t dwell on the killing, but instead focused on the police work during the resulting investigation.

That’s not to say Ellroy pulls any punches. Nothing is glossed over or whitewashed or made pretty in this story. There is an element of “even the good guys are the bad guys,” but I didn’t end up disgusted with all of my fellow humans. Just some of them.

Even if it hadn’t been written all over the cover, I think I would have been able to guess that Ellroy also authored L.A. Confidential. I haven’t read that book, but I’ve seen the movie, and it has some similarities (namely cops and whores in mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles). Turns out the two books are part of what’s called Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet,” which also includes The Big Nowhere and White Jazz.

My one complaint about the book: the family of crazies with a crazy friend kind of defied belief. One crazy person would have been enough, but Ellroy kept stacking up the insanity. As soon as we knew one mentally ill character was involved, we learned of another. And another. But, though I gripe, I must admit this did not diminish my ability to enjoy the book.

My favorite “noir” is of the Pinot variety, but Ellroy writes some pretty good crime fiction. I have added The Black Dahlia to my netflix queue (now that I think I can handle it) and will probably read The Big Nowhere at some point.


Kristi said...

I have a weak stomach, so I'm glad my friends don't post gruesome pictures on facebook. :)

That cover is pretty creepy looking, but interesting at the same time. I've seen this book around but never knew what it was about. I don't read enough crime fiction, but when I do, I usually enjoy it. Another book added to my TBR list.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Sounds like an interesting book (and what an interesting friend you have!) - I saw the movie about a year ago, and thought it was meh. I usually "like" these types of crime fiction stories, but to be honest, it was sort of a forgettable movie.

Ben said...

Ellroy likes it, but I thought the movie was crap. I liked the novel, but I thought it was convoluted a bit for my tastes.

If you liked it, I strongly suggest "Killer On The Road"

kenpen said...

It took me a couple tries to get into this book. I have found many other true crime books I've liked a lot better though.

Frl. Irene Palfy said...

I love the film though the killing/torture scenes are really -er- not very beautiful.. (?)

I am somewhat obsessed with cases like that (esp. everything connected to Jack the Ripper..) - though I am more of an "addicted to harmony" person.

That's quite an antagonism.. I know..

Kathy said...

Kristi--seems like reading my blog is pretty dangerous for your TBR pile! I hope you actually end up liking all of these books I've convinced you to read.

Natalie & Ben--funny, somehow it never even crossed my mind that the movie wouldn't be any good. Maybe because it has a number of big stars in it? I guess that doesn't always mean a good movie.

And more for Ben--I didn't know anything about Killer on the Road, but I just read a little about it now, and boy, THAT sounds disturbing!!

kenpen--tell me about some of the ones you've liked better!

Fraulein Irene--interesting incongruities! Have you read any good books about Jack the Ripper?

Brenna said...

I've always had my eye on this one but wasn't sure what to expect. I've never read Elroy, but after your review I think I'll add it to my TBR. Also, your pun about pinot noir made me laugh :)

Frl. Irene Palfy said...

Ha! Now I learned a new word: "incongruities" - it fits me perfect. Thank you for cultivating me! :")
ALso: Thank you for commenting on my blog - I did not know that your sister lives in Hannover - this is a tiny world, isn't it? ;") - For Hannover is reffered to as the "most boring town" in Germany: I hope she likes to be here. ;")

About Jack the Ripper:
The Diary of Jack the Ripper - which is in fact more about the story how this book was publicised - and actually: it was a fake! So résumé: It's boring and it's a fake. Nothing to be recommended.

Another book I read about this is Patricia Cornwell's book: it isn't really good when it comes to Jack the Ripper - she is contradictory and her suspect is illogical (which made me bite my nails..) - but it is an interesting book about criminal cases in victorian England.

So - I am looking for a really good book myself. ;") The next one I read is from two Germans - and after that I am going to explore the English market.. ;") I will inform you about any good book I find! :")

Kathy said...

Brenna--glad I could make you laugh. But are you sure you didn't actually groan instead, and change it to "laugh" just to be nice? ;)

Irene--it *is* a small world! I guess my sister must not find Hannover too boring because she loves it there. She's lived in a few other places in Germany (the only two I remember are Hamburg and Buxheim/Tauberfeld near Ingolstadt) but Hannover was the city she stayed in when she was first in Germany as an exchange student (way back in 1985!), and the one she chose to move back to.

Thanks for the rundown on the Jack the Ripper books. Too bad they were disappointing for you. I hope you enjoy the next one!

Amanda said...

I haven't read the book, I but did see the movie. It was interesting and strange, up your alley, but not particularly memorable. I found the movie poster the most fascinating, which happens to be the cover of your posted book.

Kathy said...

Doesn't sound too promising, if the movie poster is better than the movie . . . ;)

Amanda said...

I don't know, don't just take my word for it. Wasn't what I was expecting.
If you like Josh Hartnett, check out Lucky Number Slevin. It was a sleeper hit for me.

I know this is a BOOK blog... sorry!

Kathy said...

I have seen Lucky Number Slevin . . . unfortunately it must have been before I started my movie blog, and I can't remember anything about it--not even if I liked it. I hate that. It's always hard to decide whether to re-watch or let it go.

Haha, no apologies needed, of course. I don't mind blurring my blog borders.