The Black Dahlia (novel)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (September 2011)|
|The Black Dahlia|
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Jacket design by Paul Gamarello
Jacket illustration by Stephen Peringer
Art direction by Barbara Buck
|Genre(s)||Novel, crime fiction|
|Publisher||The Mysterious Press|
|Publication date||September 1987|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback), audio cassette, audio CD, and audio download|
|Pages||325 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-89296-206-2 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 19|
|LC Classification||PS3555.L6274 B53 1987|
|Preceded by||Killer on the Road (1986)|
|Followed by||The Big Nowhere (1988)|
The Black Dahlia (1987) is a neo-noir crime novel by American author James Ellroy, taking inspiration from the true story of the murder of Elizabeth Short. It is widely considered to be the book that elevated Ellroy out of typical genre fiction status, and with which he started to garner critical attention as a serious writer of literature. The Black Dahlia is the first book in Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, a cycle of novels set in 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles, which is portrayed as a hotbed of political corruption and depravity. The Quartet continues with The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz.
In June, 1943, patrol officer Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, a former boxer and a member of the Los Angeles Police Department is caught up in the Zoot Suit Riots. Bleichert comes to the rescue of Officer Lee Blanchard, who is in the middle of the rampage between U.S. servicemen and Mexican zoot suit gangs. Together they apprehend a wanted criminal, Don Santos, and take refuge in an abandoned home while waiting out the riot. They size each other up as boxers and cops and Blanchard tells Bleichert of his plans to eventually be promoted to Sergeant while Dwight continues his mundane job as a radio car patrolman in the Bunker Hill section of L.A.
The story continues three years later, in November 1946, as Bucky is invited to fight in a boxing match against Lee in hopes it will help raise support for a political bond issue and a pay raise. After realizing that his fathers' health is failing and to prove he can still fight he decides to take up the offer, have a friend make a bet against him with his money and lose on purpose to put his father in a retirement home. He also meets Kay Lake, a former artist who lives with Lee. After the fight he is transferred to Homicide-Warrants Division as a reward and partnered with Blanchard. Bucky and Kay begin to spend time together.
On January 15, 1947 while Bucky and Lee are on a stakeout they see a commotion on the corner lot of 39th street and South Norton Avenue, where they discover the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short. Dubbed "The Black Dahlia" by the press, the case shocks the public, overwhelms the L.A.P.D. and hits Lee especially hard.
During his investigation Bucky observes a mysterious young woman named Madeleine Sprague, a wealthy and promiscuous socialite who resembles Elizabeth Short, at a lesbian bar. Bucky follows her over the course of many nights, eventually questionning her and the two begin an affair. While the case continues on in circus fashion, Lee, becoming more emotionally detached begins taking benzadrine and acts erratically, collecting his own copies of the Dahlia case evidence and storing them in an El Nido hotel room. Lee eventually disappears after a confrontation with police superiors. Bucky, who is simultaneously juggling two relationships, also suffers a series of personal setbacks: breaking up with Madeleine, romantic tension with Kay, and blowing an assignment for the D.A., resulting in demotion from the Warrants Bureau. He then sets out for Tijuana searching for Lee. During his trip he learns of Lee's fate and returns to L.A. to marry Kay.
Two years pass, and with Bucky's detective career destroyed and his marriage quickly deteriorating, he transfers to the Science Investigation Division of the force and becomes a lab technician. While working with his old case supervisor Russ Millard during a suicide investigation of a wealthy businessman, he happens to notice a painting of a clown. He uncovers some clues and people associated with Elizabeth Short, piquing his curiosity about Madeleine Sprague and her family. His obsession with Short and Madeleine destroys his relationship with Kay, who leaves him when she finds out. As his life spirals out of control, his obsession taking its toll, he finally discovers the truth behind the murder of Short and its connection to the Sprague family, as well as Lee's disappearance. The novel ends with Bucky on a plane to Boston, where he and a pregnant Kay will try to rebuild their relationship.
Film adaptation 
The Black Dahlia was adapted for a film of the same name by director Brian De Palma in 2005 and released in 2006. It was, however, a critical and commercial failure, with the consensus being that it had been poorly made and acted, and at times appeared incoherent . The latter fault may have been caused by DePalma's drastic editing of the finished product, which initially ran for three hours and eventually cut down to two.
See also 
- Black Dahlia - Details of the murder.