Saturday, September 09, 2006

James Ellroy and "The Black Dahlia"

The film version of The Black Dahlia is only a week away from opening. Jeff Pierce reports that the book's author, the incomparable James Ellroy, was not even consulted by the filmmakers. Read the details of Ellroy's latest thoughts on the Black Dahlia story (the crime, the book)--and learn what Ellroy thinks about the film--here.

Last month Otto Penzler wrote of Ellroy's place in crime fiction history:

In the evolution of the modern police story, there is a straight line from Ed McBain, the greatest of all procedural writers, to Joseph Wambaugh, who showed the real life of police officers, on and off the job, to James Ellroy, whose ambitious novels involve cops as they are integrated into a greater political and sociological universe.

Tips of the hat go to other significant figures, such as Lawrence Treat, who invented the procedural; Robert Daley, whose best sellers rivaled the successes of Mr. Wambaugh's in the 1970s; Georges Simenon, whose Maigret novellas relied more on intuition than procedure; the impeccable Michael Connelly; the inspired Lucas Davenport in the Prey series of John Sanford; the always inventive George Pelecanos; and the British superstars: Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, and John Harvey.

Mr. Ellroy is probably best known for "L.A. Confidential" and, the world being what it is, this is largely due to the Oscar-nominated film based on it. This may well change as the movie version of "The Black Dahlia" will be released next month and which, if advance word is any indication, is a humdinger. To coincide with the opening of the motion picture, a new trade paperback edition of "The Black Dahlia" (Mysterious Press, $13.99, 337 pages) has just been released.

One of the authors I have most admired and respected for more than 20 years, Mr. Ellroy has produced works of such power, originality, and integrity that it is not unreasonable to say he is among the handful of the most influential writers of the past two decades. The machine gun staccato of his prose often reads like a very long telegram composed by a mad genius, perhaps with violent tendencies.

Everything nonessential is pruned, yet the dense pages mercilessly hold the reader throughout stories of crime and murder, moral degeneracy and violence, but also of nobility, courage, and redemption. If the novels are not understood as serious literature, then the reader needs to be offered a different kind of fiction in tune with his intellect, like comic books or Hardy Boys novels.

Full disclosure: Near the beginning of Mr. Ellroy's career, I was his editor and publisher, then also became a friend close enough to be the best man at his first wedding, so I am not unbiased. Nonetheless, with unstinting praise from such individuals as Elmore Leonard, Jonathan Kellerman, and Harlan Ellison, as well as from every major American publication, I (for a change) fall into the mainstream of critical opinion.

Of all his books, I have always regarded "The Black Dahlia" as his masterpiece. It is based on the true story of a young woman, Elizabeth Short, who was murdered in an especially brutal fashion in Los Angeles in 1947. Her body, cut in half and eviscerated, was found in a vacant lot — a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

Read the rest of Penzler's article here.

There's more on Ellroy here.

--Marshal Zeringue