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Literature / The Black Dahlia

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1987 novel by James Ellroy

Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert is a former middleweight boxer who got out of the fight game in order to join the L.A.P.D. What starts out as a friendly rivalry with fellow officer and also ex-fighter Lee Blanchard develops into a solid partnership. Things seem to be going well for the pair and a strong bond forms between both themselves and Blanchard's live in 'girlfriend' Kay Lake. The happy tripartite is broken apart by the horrific murder of a woman named Elizabeth Short in 1947. The victim, quickly labeled 'The Black Dahlia' by the press, begins to serve as an obsession for the detectives. Things quickly go From Bad to Worse.

Has been adapted into a 2006 film. Has nothing to do with a 1998 game of the same name. The 1946 Film Noir The Blue Dahlia is name-dropped in the novel (the murder victim is compared to that film's character, and so 'The Black Dahlia' moniker is born), but is otherwise unrelated.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Big Good: Russ Millard, the veteran detective who tries to sway Bucky away from his more corrupt colleagues and toward honest police work.
  • The Boxing Episode: Both the protagonist and his partner are former boxers with good records. Early on, it's a boxing match featuring the pair that sees Bleichert promoted to Central Warrants duty.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Blanchard to Bleichert, after it's discovered that the former was responsible for the Boulevard Citizens Bank Heist and thus had Bleichert unknowingly help him eliminate witnesses by forcing a shooting of suspects the pair try to arrest at one point.
    • Compounded later when it's revealed that Blanchard knew the entire time about Georgie Tilden's part in Elizabeth Short's murder and kept silent in return for a massive bribe.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Bleichert agrees not to mention Madeline Sprague in his reports in exchange for sex. Comes back to bite him in the ass big-time when the entire Sprague clan is revealed to have had a hand in the murder of the Dahlia, among other depravities.
  • Meaningful Background Event: At the start of Chapter Nine, during the First Summary Report on the Short investigation Item 6 refers to a woman complaining of "weird sounding gibberish" in the Hollywood Hills, and after a follow-up the incident is put down to drunken revelers and disregarded. Predictably, that's the actual murder scene that Bleichert finds twenty-three chapters later. Wouldn't want to end things too soon, would we?
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Blanchard acts as the more impulsive, emotionally compromised red. Bleichert manages to keep his emotions under check much more successfully, to the point of being accused of outright coldness. The pair are even branded as 'Fire and Ice' during the build up to their boxing match.
  • Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: Largely negative, although surprisingly not as much as in later L.A. Quartet works. Most of the L.A.P.D. genuinely wants to solve the Dahlia case. To the point that certain elements are willing to indulge in brutal questioning of subjects up to and including kidnapping convicted sex offenders, hanging them from meat-hooks and subjecting them to beatings while having each man mutilate a corpse from the morgue to 'prove' that they are the Dahlia killer.


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