The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy. Neo-Noir murder mystery.
I have never wanted so fiercely for someone to kill themselves as I wanted for Bucky Bleichert to blow his fucking brains out.
Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are LAPD officers. Brought together by political maneuvering, they become partners and eventually close friends. Their partnership, friendship and lives are wrecked by the Black Dahlia murder investigation. The novel is written from Bleichert’s point of view. His whole world and seemingly all of LA, eventually revolves around the Dahlia. She becomes the only motivating factor in his life. He is not the only detective in the novel who talks to Elizabeth Short (the Dahlia’s real name) and swears they will find who killed her.
Bleichert’s obsession takes on a sexual element. I found this to be seriously creepy which could be good except that it rang false. Even though the book is set in Los Angeles in 1947 with period slang and dialog, the characters were very relatable. I never felt a disconnect with their motivations. Then Ellroy makes more and more of a point that Bucky is trying to both protect and possess the Dahlia. His obsession becomes overtly sexual in nature. His desire to have sex with Elizabeth Short is so central to his motivation that that other characters admit to his face that they are using it to manipulate him. He is powerless in the face of it. Reading the afterword it becomes obvious that Ellroy was projecting his Oedipal desire onto Bucky and the Dahlia. It was a disservice to the character. Instead of letting him develop in a more organic fashion Ellroy pushes too much of himself into Bleichert. This was the point in the book when I really, really hated Bucky.
Bucky does eventually solve the Dahlia’s murder. As the facts of the case emerged I stopped hating him as much, probably because he had stopped wallowing in the Dahlia and was moving forward on the mystery and in his life. The case twists a couple of times in the final chapters. Eventually Bucky is the only one who knows the whole truth of Elizabeth Short’s death. As we leave him he is moving on to live out the rest of his life, still thinking of her. He frees himself of the burden of discovering her murderer but he will seemingly never be free of his obsession with her.
Despite its flaws this was a fascinating and engaging read and I am looking forward to reading more Ellroy.