Volume 91, Issue 7

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

frosh 'n' tasty


Real murderous fiction

My Dark Places
James Ellroy
Random House / Vintage
$19.50 / paperback

It started with a murder. Most good mysteries do. But this one was different. The victim was a denizen of the sleazy Hollywood bar scene circa 1958, a woman by the name of Jean Ellroy. She was the mother of a young 10-year-old boy named James Ellroy. And for young Ellroy it was to be the defining moment of his life.

The murder of his mother was to launch him into a career as a writer of sleazy crime fiction, most of it set in – surprise, surprise – the underbelly of 1950s Hollywood. His mother's unsolved murder haunted Ellroy's writing, so much that his Black Dahlia was a thinly-fictionalized account of her demise.

My Dark Places is Ellroy's autobiographical attempt to come to terms with his mother's murder. On the surface, it's a mystery itself – Ellroy having hired a retired Los Angeles detective to pick up the sketchy trail of a 30-year-old murder case. At the heart of it, My Dark Places is a harrowing account of Ellroy's downward spiral into petty crime, alcoholism and drug abuse. Before he slammed into the bottom, he relentlessly explored the depths of his own depravity.

My Dark Places is not for the squeamish. Ellroy's clear-eyed view of himself and his vague loathing/love for his mother are truthful but not romanticized in the least. At the book's end, Ellroy achieves an uneasy reconciliation with his dead mother that is compelling and ultimately quite moving. My Dark Places is a stunning book and essential reading for Ellroy fans.

–Bob Klanac

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Copyright The Gazette 1997