It may seem a bit ghoulish to say I love a book that gives a fictionalised account of a real-life murder but it’s the truth. As hard as the subject matter and the characters are, there’s something I still find fascinating about The Black Dahlia.
I’ve subsequently read close to a dozen of the author’s other books (some written before, some written after) and I will admit that some of them are better. But, for good or bad, The Black Dahlia was the first Ellroy book I read and it’s the one I come back to more than any of those others.
Part of it is the intermingling of fact and fiction; I think something in me just responds to that. Another part is that a lot of it felt raw and somehow made it more than any plain recitation of the facts would have been.
There was a lot that I took from reading this book. While it wasn’t the first book I read written in the first person POV (I’m not sure I could tell you what was), at least a part of me thinks this was the first where I fully realized how deeply that could be used to explore someone’s inner life. The main character’s twin (almost literally) obsessions with two unknowable women twist and spiral around him costing him in more ways than one.
Similarly, it wasn’t the first book I read where the main character did some less than noble things. But it was the first where there were virtually no “good” characters. Nearly every major character in the book has something to hide, and are willing to lie, cheat or worse to protect those secrets.
My discovery of this book and Ellroy’s work came at a time when I was first starting to think about writing seriously. I think it’s safe to say it’s been an influence on me ever since.