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My Dark Places

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From the author of L.A. Confidential comes My Dark Places, an investigative autobiography by James Ellroy. In 1958, Ellroy's mother, Jean, was raped, killed, and dumped off a road in El Monte, California, a rundown L.A. suburb. The killer was never found, and the case was closed. It was a sordid, back-page homicide that no one remembered. Except her son.

James Ellroy was ten years old when his mother died. His bereavement was complex and ambiguous: "I cried. I cranked tears out all the way to L.A. I hated her. I hated El Monte. Some unknown killer just bought me a brand-new beautiful life." He grew up obsessed with murdered women and crime. He ran from his mother's ghost.

Ellroy became a writer of radically provocative and bestselling crime novels. "I wear obsession well," he says. "I've turned it into something." He tried to reclaim his mother through fiction. It didn't work. He quit running and wrote this memoir.

My Dark Places is Jean and James Ellroy's story—from 1958 to all points past and up to this moment. It is the story of a brilliant homicide detective named Bill Stoner and of the investigation he and Ellroy undertook. It is also an unflinching autobiography with vivid reportage. This is James Ellroy's journey through his most forbidding memories.

427 pages, Hardcover

First published November 12, 1996

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About the author

James Ellroy

117 books3,602 followers
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

Ellroy is known for a "telegraphic" writing style, which omits words other writers would consider necessary, and often features sentence fragments. His books are noted for their dark humor and depiction of American authoritarianism. Other hallmarks of his work include dense plotting and a relentlessly pessimistic worldview. Ellroy has been called the "Demon Dog of American crime fiction."

See also http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0255278/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 506 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,387 followers
May 1, 2008
I love this goddamn book, and I love James Ellroy. Reading this made me remember why I liked his books so much when I read them years ago, but this is much better than his fiction. Still, I think having read some of his other stuff definitely helped me appreciate this more.

Ellroy really gets it. He gets so many things that most people don't: Ellroy gets misogyny. He gets bigotry and racism. Ellroy gets brutality and violence. He gets crime. He gets sexuality, he gets desire, he gets pain. He gets honesty. He gets dissimulation and avoidance.

He gets memoir.

In my fascist state, anyone who wants to write a memoir has to sit down and read this one first. Then, we sit down in a room together under a bright light and I ask you whether or not you can justify writing an entire book about your life. Has there been anything exceptional about your life that might be of interest to other people? Moreover, are you capable of writing about it in an engaging and emotionally challenging way?

James Ellroy's got a lot of heart (in the boxing sense).

My Dark Places did not make me cry at any point, which usually disqualifies a book from the five-star rankings. However, I got myself in a bit of a rating bind, because I liked Bright Lights, Big City okay even though it was pretty mediocre, so I gave it three stars. Then I read Less Than Zero and felt like I liked it so much more than BLBC so I had to give it four stars; then I got to this and was like, I can't POSSIBLY give James ELLROY the same number of stars as Brett Easton Ellis...! I've heard something similar happens with grading at a lot of colleges. Bookface inflation is on the rise!

My number one favorite thing about Ellroy has always been the way he evokes seedy mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles with such palpable grit and glamor. I love his aesthetics. I love that era, and few writers describe it as convincingly or compellingly as he does. He basically pulls up in a two-toned '57 Buick and wrestles you into his car and forcibly drives you to a certain time and place, and there you are. It's great!

My other number one favorite thing about Ellroy is the way he understands and exploits the dynamics of his subject -- his subject being murdered women, in this case his mother, who was brutally killed when he was ten years old. Ellroy understands the eroticism of this kind of violence, and instead of denying or denouncing or sanitizing the eroticism, he embraces and obsesses endlessly on it. Ellroy's is the antithesis to a common facile fascination with ugliness and degeneracy. He plunges straight into the heart of darkness, and then instead of trying to scalp front row seats like so many other interested parties, he casts himself in a starring role, and hams it up.

To me Ellroy represents a certain type of guy who has baptized himself in some hardboiled, vastly unappealing fires -- guys who have seen terrible things, done terrible deeds, been terrible people -- and come out the other side with all the bullshit burned away, naked and sensitive as a wizened, tragic, tiny little boy.

Here's my favorite passage from the book. It's about Ellroy and a retired cop whom he enlists to help him solve the mystery of his mother's murder almost forty years after it occurred:

We drove. We talked. We spun off our case and encapsulated the whole criminal world. We drove freeways and surface streets. Bill pointed out body dump locales and riffed on his old cases. I described my pathetic crime exploits. Bill described his patrol years with picaresque zeal. We both worshiped testosterone overload. We both reveled in tales of male energy displaced. We both saw through it. We both knew it killed my mother. Bill saw my mother's death in full-blown context. I loved him for it.

It rained like a motherfucker all through January. We sat out rush-hour traffic and freeway floods. We hit the Pacific Dining Car and ate big steak dinners. We talked. I started to see how much we both hated sloth and disorder. I lived in it for 20 years solid. Bill lived it once-removed as a cop. Sloth and disorder could be sensual and seductive. We both knew it. We both understood the rush. It came back to testosterone. You had to control. You had to assert. It got crazy and forced you to capitulate and surrender. Cheap pleasure was a damnable temptation. Booze and dope and random sex gave you back a cheap version of the power you set out to relinquish. They destroyed your will to live a decent life. They sparked crime. They destroyed social contracts. The time-lost/time-regained dynamic taught me that. Pundits blamed crime on poverty and racism. They were right. I saw crime as a concurrent moral plague with entirely empathetic origins. Crime was male energy displaced. Crime was a mass yearning for ecstatic surrender. Crime was romantic yearning gone bad. Crime was the sloth and disorder of individual default on an epidemic scale. Free will existed. Human beings were better than lab rats reacting to stimuli. The world was a fucked-up place. We were all accountable anyway.

I knew it. Bill knew it. He tempered his knowledge with a greater sense of charity than I did. I judged myself harshly and passed the standards of my self-judgment on to other people. Bill believed in mitigation more than I did. He wanted me to extend a sense of mitigation to my mother (pp. 353-354).

I really appreciated Ellroy's perspectives on crime, especially since I'm about to start a new job in forensic social work. I've always thought there were some interesting parallels between crime novels and the social service work I do (for example, there's a lot of crossover in populations dealt with, and similar issues of vicarious trauma for cops and social workers) and reading this felt very timely. I appreciate having another perspective than the one I'm used to, and I liked reading his thoughts about victimhood. I'm not sure if I'll let him keep all five stars -- I might go back and assign Bright Lights, Big City two, and readjust everything downward -- but for now I feel he's earned this. I tore through this book, and neglected other duties and activities so that I could read it. One thing that was interesting to me while reading was that I didn't find the graphic descriptions in this book particularly frightening or disturbing. I think that might be because I felt I trusted Ellroy, and the spirit in which he wrote.

Anyway, this, like too many of my recent book reports, has become overly long. Sorry! In closing: I definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in crime novels, especially if they don't mind a few graphic oedipal rape/murder details.

I thought this was just great. I really did!
Profile Image for Bobby Underwood.
Author 100 books257 followers
March 29, 2018
Because there is no secret what this book is about, I didn’t feel the need to mark it as containing spoilers. If, however, you are coming at this book cold, and don’t know the well-publicized story of Ellroy’s dark past, you might want to skip this review.

While I loved the film adaptation of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, I must confess that he isn’t a favorite of mine. But I am aware of his work and have read enough to know he’s certainly got something, even if it isn't my cup of tea. In essence, this autobiographical memoir is another crime novel from James Ellroy, and like all great crime novels, this one begins with a compelling murder. Kids playing baseball would find her body in some ivy in El Monte, California. From a disheveled dress and an exposed upper chest, to ligatures constricted with such force they were only three inches in diameter, Ellroy describes the crime scene and those opening weeks of the investigation with his familiar staccato style. There is more here than meets the eye, however, because reading this is tantamount to listening in on a therapy session as a patient purges his inner demons. We begin to see a picture of a 10 year old boy whose entire life has been ruled by a crime; not just any crime, but the brutal murder of that pretty redheaded woman in the ivy. Her name was Jean Ellroy. That boy is author James Ellroy.

She got a divorce and started over in El Monte with her son. She tried to balance the two worlds of her drinking and promiscuity with her work as a nurse and the solid life she was trying to give her son. Those two worlds would merge on a King's Row curb. This memoir is a dance of reconciliation for Ellroy, an attempt to separate her death from her life, and make her ghost become a real person. Brutal and unflinching in its honesty, this memoir is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It is a true crime story that reads like a police procedural. The crimes are real. The people — especially Ellroy — are messed up. The names have not been changed, because there are no innocents.

Once we realize this is Ellroy's love letter to his slain mother, we can't put it down. Ellroy describes in detail and with brutal candor the bitterness between his mother and father, and the war they fought for his loyalty — the worst thing you can do to a kid. Once she was dead, he would obsess over her, and run from her murder his entire adult life. He spouted racist propaganda and hate just to get attention. The parenting skills of his father, which can best be described as permissive neglect, left him with too much freedom and far too much time on his hands. Time he would use for elaborate fantasies about his mother. He formed an obsession with the Betty Short-Black Dahlia murder, who became a surrogate for his mother. And in every fantasy, Ellroy would save women in a way he could not save his own mother, and they would be grateful. His torment led to years of drug and alcohol abuse, finally escalating into voyeurism and crime. This produced temporary highs finally coming to a screeching halt when his mind had had enough, and decided to take a timeout. Once Ellroy got his mind working again, he found work as a golf caddy and began writing crime novels. After some success, he finally decided to face his mother's ghost by solving her murder. Unbelievably, this memoir has just begun.

Detective Bill Stoner was living with dead women as well, and Ellroy brings them all to life for the reader as he takes us into the world of cops and crime. Cops like Stoner knew about obsession. Ellroy explains that almost all homicide cops love the old film "Laura." Because they too have all fallen in love with dead girls, just like Dana Andrews does in this cinematic masterpiece. Stoner was leaving the job after 32 years, the last 12 spent in homicide. Stoner was a well known and respected cop willing to help Ellroy find closure. Stoner was the cop responsible for solving the famous Cotton Club murder, and felt he understood Ellroy, because both were living with dead girls. Ellroy pays homage to the ghosts of Stoner's women along the way, making sure you will always remember names like Bunny Krauch and Susan Hamway. You will remember a baby murdered by proxy. Perhaps foremost, you will remember young and innocent Tracy Lea Stewart. Convictions could never equal closure.

In this dark and mesmerizing memoir the reader spends over a year with Stoner and Ellroy as they probe the memories of old cops and witnesses, and chase down leads. They would go public in GQ Magazine and on TV with Unsolved Mysteries. Though this memoir is brutal and sad, it is also tense and exciting, and at times, very funny. I cannot tell you the ending, or even if there is one. What I have described of this brilliant book is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not an easy read, it is filled with unpleasantness, and some creepy revelations about Elroy himself. It isn’t for the delicate, so it will definitely not appeal to everyone. But if you can grit your teeth and take it, it is very compelling. A brave if sometimes very unpleasant look inward by Ellroy that you will never forget after turning the final page. Unfortunately, you will never forget a lot of things, so be forewarned, this will definitely take you out of your comfort zone.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
February 2, 2022
Since I read James Ellroy’s (fictional) The Black Dahlia I have had his (memoir) My Dark Places on my list. The Black Dahlia is one of the best known true crime LA stories about a woman who was killed and left in an abandoned lot. Many women were killed in LA before that, of course, and many after that, of course, and many more were even killed that year, but for some reason this story of this one woman captured the public imagination, the subject of dozens of books and films. Bettie Short was the dark obsession of Ellroy for many years until he finally crafted a great book about her (and the LAPD, and so many women killed and dumped on the streets over years).

I’ve now completed all four books in Ellroy’s late forties through late fifties LA Quartet, the first of which is the 1987 Black Dahlia, based on the rape and murder in 1947 of Bettie Short, but in the process of reviewing that book I discovered that Ellroy’s lifelong obsession with Short and with crime in LA generally was largely informed by the death of his own mother, Jean, in 1958 when he was ten years old. His parents were divorced, and as too often happens, each of them told lies about each other to their young son to separate the child from the other parent. Initially the son sided with the more fun Dad, who trashed his mom as a tramp, though both parents were liars, and finally maybe Dad was more so than mom, whom he discovered much about as he teamed with an LA detective to reopen the case and investigate it for a year.

The book begins with Ellroy’s early life with them, including the murder and his wil years with his fathern; it follows with a (to me) surprising section of his messed-up life after his Dad also died when he was seventeen. He became A Rebel without a Cause (James Dean, a film and youth icon also of the late fifties), a drug addict, a drunk, a thief, a burglar, who was jailed multiple times. He hated just about everything and everybody, and he was largely alone, rudderless. But he was nevertheless pretty bright, he always read, and somehow wrote a crime novel in his early thirties. He followed this with many novels, but it was not until he had achieved what might be shocking national success (given his life in the gutter)for some of his books that he decided to go back and see if he could help solve the (long closed) murder case of his mother, with an LA detective. The last section is a kind of biography of her that he developed, a truer image of her than the woman he thought he had known.

“I was afraid of all girls, most boys and selected male and female adults. My fear derived from my apocalyptic fantasy apparatus. I knew that all things went chaotically bad.”

This is a great and brutally honest memoir, a noir true crime story, a moving biography and a kind of reconciliation with and tribute to his mother. Maybe some of the police procedural section becomes a little long, but on the other hand, the style is less staccato than the LA Quartet. And maybe a little kinder to the LAPD cops, the worst of which he beats up pretty badly in the LA Quartet for racism and corruption. Don’t get me wrong, Ellroy can be a jerk, he can he harsh, and difficult to be around, as he makes clear in his honest depiction of his post-parent disaster years, as most of his life been filled with rage for corruption, for hypocrisy, for the worst of human nature, and that rage is still here, but in this book it’s muted, as this is his most tender and personal book yet, bringing his mother back to life, to raise her from the dead and make her real for himself and for us.

“I want to burn down the distance between us.”

I’ll say 4.5 stars, rounded up for the tribute to his mother, and that determination to find the truth, kind of gripping and admirable. None of these folks are saints, but hats off to Ellroy for not romanticizing any of them, and for being honest, especially about all of his own flaws. With this book we can better understand the dark passions that inform all of his rich and often harsh stories of American life.

PS: This is just a weird sidenote, but again, just coincidentally (?) I have read five books this year so far set in 1957-58. What can that be about? It was not deliberate, I swear.And all of them are dark: and A book about Eddie Gein, the macabre killer in Plainfield, Wisconsin; a novel set in Ireland by John Banville, Snow; a memoir set in Paris by Annie Ernaux, a somewhat ominous tale of romantic obsession; the fourht in the LA Quartet, White Jazz, and now this memoir/biography of Ellroy's murdered mother. Is this synchronicity, leading to. .. what, and why? Or is it paranoia? Kafka's Trial? Or just coincidence? Also, the Eddie Gein story is set in Plainfield, the WI where I visited recently as I read the book; and now I have my map out where I can see Tunnel City, which is a tiny town where Jean Ellroy grew up and where her son visited in his investigation, just thirty minutes from Plainfield. Madness? Nah, just weird life.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews2,947 followers
October 18, 2009
in the grand tradition started by those two saucy goodreads wenches (that's karen and 'tambo, of course), i present my own offering: a pic of one of my heroes, james 'demon dog' ellroy, with his arm around me and manny. further down is another pic of him shouting profanities and right-wing slogans in the course of his reading. fucking gorgeous madman.

after the reading i took the bigass cardboard display featuring the cover of blood's a rover and had him to sign it to jack. jack is a pitbull. ellroy's a pitbull man. he grabbed the silver pen and drew a frenzied picture of jack with a HUUUUGE schlong and a word bubble coming out of jack's mouth: 'i give good snout'

ellroy launched into an insane twisted and labyrinthian monologue, starting with a variation on the classic:

"Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I'm James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I'm the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin' family, if the name of your family is the Manson Family."

it must be mentioned that ellroy talked to me about 'tambo for a while. her eyes, her hair, and her boy problems. it seems that someone has a crush... the demon dog (he actually referred to himself as the 'death dog' this time around) looooooves tambo as much as the rest of us.

AAAHHH!! also: he showed up with DON CRUTCHFIELD! crutch is the lead character in blood's a rover. and a real guy! we flipped the fuck out! crutch is an ex-PI and that great old hollywood type: thinning blown-back hair, thick gin-blossomed face, no tie, open shirt, mucho tales to tell. standing alone chatting with crutchfield, i must admit i was slightly startled as he told stories of police brutality from back in the day*, as well as his own stories of murder: "now scotty killed about 17. my number's not that high, but it's up there!" whew.

here's crutch's website. it's really demented and amazing:


ellroy has been ramrodding & firebombing his way through american history and offering up as profound and fucked a spin on the 20th century as has been done... that he's also this great theatrical madhouse, this fuckoff 'death dog' of a bastard, this mega-lunatic 60 yr old powerhouse... shit. the motherfucker is the antidote to all that reeks of 'quiet desperation'. VIVA DEATH DOG!

* "scotty stood on that guy's throat and then we just heard a crack. he looked down and realized he'd snapped his neck and killed the guy. 'too much fucking paperwork' scotty said. so we just left."
67 reviews397 followers
September 11, 2009
You won, Mr. Ellroy. You won. It took 283 pages. Your short, staccato sentences finally defeated me. I couldn't take it anymore. So I quit. If I were to meet you in person, you'd laugh at me. You'd call yourself a genius. You'd call me a fucking idiot. You'd be right. You are a genius. I am a fucking idiot. That doesn't change the fact that your memoir is practically unreadable.

I was able to decipher a few things from what I read. I know that you're a weird dude. I know that your dad had a huge whanger. Your mom had red hair and you're obsessed with her. I know that you like to toss around every epithet in the book. It's not because you're a bigot. You're just so cool that you're beyond all that stuff. I know that men will kill for just about any reason one can imagine. Women usually kill because of the wrongs of men.

I liked a lot of your memoir. It just wore me down. It also bored me after a while. I'm starting to worry that I won't like your Underworld USA Trilogy. This memoir was supposed to be a lead-in to those books. It was supposed to be the lube that helped those big, fat books enter me without any pain. But now I'm not horny at all, Mr. Ellroy. I'm just cold, confused, and lonely.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,241 followers
August 23, 2019

A transcendent high-octane memoir that burns all other memoirs to the ground. A five star must read.


Rereading nonfiction is a rarity for me but for the second time this stunning book left me convinced that James Ellroy is one of the Greatest Living Authors. And yet

And yet

I do not read James Ellroy novels. I’ve only read two and abandoned a third. Why is this ?

It’s because Ellroy went TOO FAR. There are authors who go TOO FAR. James Joyce went mad and wrote Finnegans Wake, a book only 47 people have ever read all the way through. Henry James became gradually unreadable as his sentences exfoliated into the length of a paragraph and then a page with so many clauses and subclauses you have to investigate each one like it’s a murder case needing a solution. He went too far. And for me Ellroy, with his staccato ratatat nailgun style and his dense cop and underworld slang and his byzantine plots and his murky conspiratorial under-history of America and his everybody is a walking bag of pus attitude, he also became unreadable. I think I need to try again though, and try harder this time.

Part one of this book is 150 pages of Ellroy’s life story from age 10 to around 30, it’s all pure jawdropping brilliance. Kicks off with the sex murder of his mother in 1958, and how he and his father were pretty pleased, that’s right, that she was dead so they could carry on their degenerate lives together in peace. So there’s two jolts for the reader, and then comes the 100 pages of vileness that was the youthful Ellroy – he was a Nazi, a chronic shoplifter, broke into houses for the purpose of stealing women’s underwear, lived on amphetamine, became homeless, the list of his crimes and follies goes on, like Celine Dion’s heart. Maiden aunts were well advised to steer clear of the young Ellroy. Actually, the whole human race would have been best advised to avoid him.

Next part of the book is where he hires an investigator to see if between them they could crack the unsolved murder of his mother. This involves crawling all over the original case, all over his father’s life, all over his mother’s life, and coming to a wrenching emotional conclusion.

I could just possibly imagine this book would not be for everyone.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,216 reviews551 followers
May 6, 2017
For the core depth to the personality and life record of James Ellroy this gets a 5 star. For the writing style and word craft aspect of its exhaustion to that prime cause, it gets a 1 star. YES, this is that EXTREME example of a book, non-fiction or not, that in varying aspects can be rated at both ends of the spectrum. If it is the enjoyment factor that is central to the star level, then it would also be various, IMHO. At times the read was a 4 plus, and at others a 2 at the very most. There is about 25 to 35% of this book that occurs within his addiction, low-life, and utterly useless to himself or others existence- that was definitely, for me, under a 2 star level for any enjoyment. Similar to watching a dire accident, sick animal or other self-mutilating endeavor over and over again on a film loop. I can absolutely understand how this book could result in a majority of quitters at sometime during that point.

Also the repetition in his life for the "redhead" case. Both in the original and in the cold case years- was so IMMENSE. This quite apart from all the dead ends or side cases in relation or similar (Tracy's murder). So that the book's clarity is absolutely lost for continuity or structures of connection maybe 100 times x 2 by the 85% point. That's when the trial for Tracy Stewart's murder occurs. In the same building and at the same time as the O.J. Simpson trial. As James says repeatedly- his life association is always just the "lounge act" ignored for the star stringer in the main attention circle.

This book has maybe 200 or 300 perps or cases or side names for interview and reference. It is written in stark, blunt, 7 or 8 word sentences. And some of those in /within the same paragraph have absolutely nothing to do with each other. So the end result is for a cognition similar to a meth junkie on LSD trying to mouth and mime the entire police department record of dispatch calls for a month. And then trying to repeat those calls with the police jargon singular word category of type within a 5 minute period of time.

Did you understand that? I doubt it. But know I just popped a literary style gig for James Elroy.

This would have been a 4 star for me if he would not have copped out. (Yes, COPPED out!!) He twisted a space of 2 years when/after he left the inhaler and break in for food, goodies behind. How and why? Prisons didn't do it. You get this small taste of AA that he disdains, and then all of a turn- it is a couple of years later and he has "gotten" it. What turned the screw to pull this altering off when he was 30??? And especially since his cognition, clearly from 10 years of age too, was one to bloat, pile give mes, and fulfill any point of user manipulation he could for his own minute to minute purposes? That was a cop out. He always held the obsession with his mother even before her murder, so what was the turnaround for quitting the junk, user, and criminal life and for the beginning to working a possible "other" structure?? THAT in this length of book would have been essential to the whole. You would think.

But James as the author and the virtuous rebel emerges in early middle age of 30. Eventually he has appeared. And the diligence to months to years of work for seeking Jean's knowledge and revenge (both) proceed with each morsel and atom of minutia in detail to how and where. With Stoner's help and others of his jailhouse acquaintances too-both in and out of the copper fold. Never truly in singular is James on a task here. Another interesting but rather glossed over tidbit inherent considering the length of this book.

Compelling read about L.A. in a former time. It approaches 5 star in his descriptive world of "home" during the 1957-59 period, especially. Remembering the 1950's as a kid myself! (Born in the very same year as James Elroy too.) It is difficult for me to imagine such role models or "norms" he had. And even worse, the parental "eyeball" views he garnered. Boomers with more than 200 kids on my city block of 40 houses- I never once heard a swear word. It couldn't have been more different than James had.

This book is dark and it is long. Murder is numerous and rape is almost universal. And it is unreadable English in large sections. But it does reveal the parts of his mind connections and soul voids that is, are, and were- James Ellroy. It does do that to a 4 star.

Sodom and Gomorrah seem, to me, more like Disney versions of evil compared to James Ellroy's L.A. neighborhood. During all of this reading time, I figured if "the Blonde" was the mouth toward any knowledge for the "Swarthy man"- she was also probably buried under a bus bench or strip mall siding somewhere for decades too. Similar to the Tracy disappearance crime. And the meaningless film loop wasn't only for James' inhaler, drug, and booze binge cycle. It proceeds too toward any contact with or information to identity for the BLONDE. After 30 years, it's harder to find witness the longer the "eyes" are closed. Especially if the body is never found. So I assumed she was a goner.

Some of these women had 7 or 8 names too. Not only by marriage and divorce, but also by street or showbiz trade. And no death certificates for any of those names either.

After all was ended in this read, which took me 3 times longer than usual for the length- I ponder. I do ponder. Because I am not sorry I read it, but I do know that I would not want to read the fiction set in his mind/worldview. It's too fried, and murky. Both.

And I have to add this at the end. I just have to as being a human who does not and never will accept this current assumed definition for a kind or type of moral relativity philosophy. Some of these reviews, I just read them now- seem to connote that "getting" the attraction of violence in sexual attraction and behaviors is a good thing. HUH!!!

As if people or especially women who are used by men like James or the perps in their "twisted baptism of fire" are not annihilated (if not completely destroyed) and the born-again or not men are old now and yet somehow happily justified in their firey paths to "knowledge of self progressions".

Nope, to me James is no hero. Not in any sense.
Profile Image for Γιώργος Κατσούλας.
Author 8 books66 followers
March 26, 2018
Λεει ο Αγης Αθανασιαδης ο κορυφαιος ισως κριτικος λογοτεχνιας της χωρας στον επιλογο της εκπληκτικης του κριτικης."Ο Ελρόυ συνεχώς, σε όλα τα έργα του, πολεμάει με τους δαίμονές του, τους εφιάλτες που τον στοιχειώνουν από την ηλικία των 10 ετών που είδε την μητέρα του νεκρή, και που άλλαξε μέσα σε μια νύχτα την πορεία της ζωής του. Ο ατίθασος και τεμπέλης έφηβος που ξενυχτούσε διαβάζοντας αστυνομικές ιστορίες και pulp περιοδικά με στυγερά εγκλήματα, το παιδί που έκλεβε σπίτια και που παράτησε το σχολείο για να καταταγεί στον στρατό, ο αλκοολικός και ναρκομανής, ο άνθρωπος που περιφρονείτο από όλους, έγινε ο σπουδαίος συγγραφέας, ένας άνθρωπος που ουσιαστικά γράφει συνεχώς την ιστορία της ζωής του, ξαναζεί τις αναμνήσεις του, παλεύει με τον εαυτό του. Αυτό το βιβλίο-επιστολή πάθους, έρωτα και μίσους, συμπυκνώνει όλα τα προηγούμενά του, ελεγειακό και συνταρακτικό, σκληρό και νοσηρά ερωτικό, παροξυσμικό όπως όλα τα βιβλία του μεγάλου αυτού συγγραφέα, ημιτελές και αδιέξοδο όπως η ζωή του, είναι ένα σπουδαίο μυθιστόρημα."Αυτο ακριβως.
Profile Image for Matt.
94 reviews302 followers
December 10, 2009
The murder rate in this part of the country seems to have steadily increased over the last fifteen to twenty years. I have no empirical evidence to back up this claim, only the fact that I have noticed a greater frequency over time in the local television station doing what I call the ritual.

The ritual consists of at least four distinct movements. The first is the sudden announcement that a murder has happened. No names or locations are released, thus getting everyone who is paying any attention at all abuzz with excitement or worry. People with little to do take a greater interest in any law enforcement activity going on in the area during this phase. This soon gives way to phase two: The release of the victim’s name and the location of the incident. Any incidental details that register as either strange or disturbing are also revealed at this point. Phase three seems designed to occur as quickly as possible after phase two. It involves seeking out a friend or loved one of the victim and securing an on-camera interview. Everything that follows such as the investigation, arrest, and trial falls under phase four for the purposes of the sloppy categorization that I have going on here.

Phase three is the one that has always caused me discomfort. It just seems wrong to shove a camera in the face of someone who has only recently found out that a friend or family member has been murdered and ask them for their thoughts on the matter. Often the viewers at home are treated to the sight of someone who may not be too articulate to begin with trying to form words around tears. The broadcasted image leads to conflicted thoughts of sadness and empathy for the person’s loss mixed with a cringing embarrassment over the spectacle that they have allowed themselves to be caught up in.

Obviously it would be a bit short-sighted to place all of the blame on the news media for approaching stories in this way. Similar to Paris Hilton or emails for herbal male enhancement products, there has to be a market for this type of thing somewhere out there or else it would just dry up and go away, right? In my more wrong-headed moments I would also tend to chalk this up to being a symptom of these current times. However, when I saw the photo of ten-year-old Lee Ellroy only moments after he was told that his mother had been murdered along with the accompanying explanation behind the photo of the journalist who lead him into the landlord’s woodshop and posed him at the workbench, it became obvious that there is really nothing new about phase three.

It would be an understatement to say that such an event is going to cause some developmental issues in a child. Raised in a permissive environment with a father who wanted to be more like an older brother (and this is one of his more attractive personality traits), young Lee grew up to be just about the biggest jack off walking the streets, both figuratively and literally. He delves into a life of petty thievery, addiction, and perversion (I’m trying to avoid that skinless flute joke that I want to make right here…) and appears to be on the senseless path of one day becoming either victim or murderer in his own right. Something happens along the way, however, as Lee turns his obsessions with the Black Dahlia and his own mother outwards, changes his first name to James, and starts down the path to becoming a great crime writer. His mother’s case is never solved, and this is something that he feels he must attempt to rectify years later.

On the surface this book is about the reinvestigation into the murder of Geneva Hilliker Ellroy, but there are so many other things going on here such as a biographical portrait of Ellroy himself along with an examination of the very tumultuous relationship that he had with both of his parents. One surmises that this title served to provide Ellroy with both a reconciliation along with a small sense of closure over the crummy hand that he had been dealt in his early years. He shows tremendous courage in the unflinching way that he relates the details of his youthful escapades along with the unresolved sexual conflicts that he had towards his mother.

Having said that, I had some trouble getting totally wrapped up in the police procedural aspects of this book. This is most likely splitting hairs on matters of personal preference, as I’m not naturally drawn to most crime fiction or cop shows. Under Ellroy’s tight prose hand I still found these sections interesting, but for me they did not pack that enthralling brass knuckle punch in the stomach that his fiction does.

There was one other minor complaint that I had with this book. Ellroy seemed to gloss over the moment where he marshaled the will to turn from jack off Lee to hard-ass, demon dog James. It reads almost like Clark Kent bumbling into the telephone booth and emerging as Superman and I wanted more details. A sentence near the end of the book made me reconsider this judgment.

The paperwork and the pictures formed a life in ellipsis. Pg. 343

This sentence was a resulting final reflection on his mother as he moved pictures of her around on his desk along with police reports of the murder to look at them in different juxtapositions. It was then that it dawned on me that a recurring image in this book is his constant rearrangement of images and facts in search of newer, less visible meanings. He was constantly doing this either at his desk, on a cork board, or inside of his own head. In my mind, this single personality trait speaks volumes of insight into the Lee/James question that I was so curious about.
Profile Image for pierlapo quimby.
501 reviews30 followers
September 24, 2012
Uno dei libri più intensi che abbia mai letto.
I luoghi oscuri del titolo sono quelli del passato di Ellroy, un passato a dir poco turbolento, profondamente segnato dall'evento cardine della sua giovinezza: l'assassinio della madre.
L'Ellroy che emerge da queste pagine è quanto mai vero, da un lato determinato a venire a capo di quell'omicidio irrisolto e dall'altro fragile come il bambino che era quando gli ammazzarono la mamma.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,921 reviews720 followers
August 15, 2021
full post here:

One of the main effects of reading this book was to put Ellroy's writing back in my head; once again he's crawled under my skin and I won't be satisfied now until I read more.

Last year I read Ellroy's LA Quartet, the opening novel of which is The Black Dahlia. In that book, as the author noted in his afterword, a "personal story attends the Black Dahlia," inextricably linking him to "two women savaged eleven years apart." One of these women was his mother, Geneva (Jean) Hilliker, who was killed in 1958, her murderer unknown and her case never solved. The other, of course, was the real-life Black Dahlia herself, Elizabeth Short, whose story Ellroy had read as a boy in Jack Webb's The Badge "a hundred times" and who not only became his "obsession," but also a "symbiotic stand-in" for his mother. My Dark Places tells that "personal story," which began when the author was ten and arrived home to discover that his mother was dead; it also explores his own unique relationship to her memory and how it changed over time. It was her murder that shaped who he ultimately became; here he lays his demons bare for all to see. Completely misquoting Bette Davis in All About Eve, fasten your seatbelts -- you're in for a bumpy ride.

I won't say I threw myself into this book; as was the case when I read his LA Quartet, it's more like I fell down the rabbit hole after getting sucked into it. It was impossible not to, actually -- even though this book is a work of nonfiction, reading My Dark Places had much the same effect on me as those four novels did. It is real, it is raw, and while it is beyond difficult to read, it is yet another fine piece of work by one of my favorite writers. Overall, though, it is, as the back-cover blurb so rightly describes, the story of a man who spent some three decades running from his mother's ghost, trying to "exorcize it through crime fiction," and a man hoping for some sort of redemption.

Definitely not for the faint of heart, but to Ellroy fans, a book not to be missed.
Profile Image for Ade Bailey.
298 reviews167 followers
April 17, 2009
Relelentlessly energetic prose, thin with detail and thick with life: as autobiography bordering on fiction, it is largely a conscious reflection upon the thin procedural lines, maps, data of detective work and memory, and the thick emotional heat of memory as powerful as instinct. Though ‘factual’, incredibly fact-stuffed recording of events and contingencies, the end result is a wasteland of strewn debris where everything is disconnected: against the urge for connection, maybe the book’s core theme, is its impossibility as everything is broken, fabricated, boarded over, shabby, forgotten, confabulated, and it’s in a valley full of “shitty lives” and the valley of broken lives, broken streets, promises, plans, hopes, loves is in each of those lives.
Every sentence is one of three things: a fact, an epigram or a mixture of both. And each sentence is as precisely sharp and powerful and efficient as a bullet. Take this: “The murder was an epigram on transient lives and impacted sex as death.” Sex and death, love and violence are inseparable. Powerlessness vies with testosterone-driven masculinity that breaks women, consumes and discards them: “You had to control. You had to exert….Booze and dope and random sex gave you back a cheap version of the power you set out to relinquish. They destroyed your will to live a decent life.” Cheap, glandular responses to the “shitty life”. Earlier, “Sex obsession was love six times or six thousand times removed.”
This is a deeply, deeply moral book. The honesty of the author’s laying himself out like a corpse on an autopsy slab is brilliant and terrifying. He is the eternal man caught between fierce probity, rectitude, puritantical intensity on the one hand, and on the other profligacy, shitty responses to a shitty world, and the constant threat of final renunciation of decency and goodness. “I was a moralistic and judgmental zealot operating on a time-lost/life regained dynamic. I expected my women to toe the hard-work line and submit to the charismatic force I thought I possessed and fuck me comatose and make me submit to their charisma and moral rectitude on an equitable basis.”
To understand the world as a function of memory gleaning a body of facts may be numbingly comfortable but it is six or six thousand removes from life, settling for all thin and no thick. In his obsessive (thick) chasing of evidence about his mother’s murder he gleaned millions of (thin) facts, then realised that all these facts as sole carrier of ‘evidence’ were taking him in the opposite direction of what was driving him on, which was not to find her murderer but to find the woman he had lost, or never let himself know. His ultimate acts of memory are exquisitively hard, literally physical work involving solitary extended periods in darkness, bringing his whole will to bear on that which he seeks in the fragmented mess of his dark places.
The book consciously and repeatedly comments on the nature of memory. The short Chapter 26 is given over to it. And it is as much about his memory and his dark places as our own. Think for example of how he remembers his mother’s remembering seeing Dillinger’s getting shot, and his conclusion (through various techniques, slants, methods, hunches of memory) of how she did not factually see this at all but constructed the memory from a near truth, her being literally near the shooting when it happened and possibly hearing the shot (memory is a place, remember), compounded with subsequent news reports, gossip, pictures and so on. And to emphasise the explicit recognition that memory is place or places, and also to show the slightly different, less driven tone of his reflective style, of his investigations he says: “My memories were running in straight chronological lines. May fantasies were running as adjuncts and outtakes. I thought I’d be criss-crossing the memory map. I thought I’d be stumbling over real-life minutae. I was on the road to recollection. I’d conjured up Tweed perfume and some period snapshots. I was running a linear flowchart.” That raising re-membering memory into recollection is important, and the italicised endpiece of the book, an address to his mother, suggests the Proustian magnitude of what a memory of perfume over a memory of a ‘fact’ may bring: I’ll learn more. I’ll follow your tracks and invade your hidden time. I’ll uncover your lies. I’ll rewrite your history and revise my judgment as your old secrets explode. Yes, it is about the process of history itself.
The ‘lies’ he will uncover are innocent lies, a rewording to the denials he exposes in himself and his society as he and it try to construct a memory of good times in a reality of shittiness, For addicts, there is a specific point. Ellroy was in pretty bad trouble with inhalants, alcohol and other stuff. He just stopped. He decided to stop and stopped. He was doing some pretty bad things too and really messing up people. Again he decided to stop being like this, he expressed a will to decency. On his own, by his Self. It is certainly a crucial point to ponder, but Ellroy has a contempt he can only express in passing so low does he value some aspects of modern America: he hates the way what used to be obviously good and bad have been confused in professional jargon and sociobabble and psychobabble; he scorns “twelve steps evangelists”, “therapy freaks”, “dilettantees, incompetents, rock&rollers”. I don’t think I’d enjoy a curry with the guy, and that he would have contempt and disdain not only for some of my own values and way of life but also those of most people I know. But I do think this is a brilliant book, and end by repeating that it is a book that like none I have read from recent times is starkly set in a moral framework. I suppose you could just read it for entertainment and nothing wrong with that. But if you engage with it at the sorts of levels I have been trying to indicate, you will have to question not only his values but crucially your own. And the questioning, like memory, will have to be moral.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 10 books159 followers
August 10, 2009
Although many of the books I read have crime in them I don't really read ‘crime’ novels, or 'true crime' books (or memoirs come to that) so I would probably have missed this altogether except for the GR reviews from friends and others. Really so much has been written on GR about this book I find it hard to add to. I agree with many assessments, like Abailart's:

This is a deeply, deeply moral book. The honesty of the author’s laying himself out like a corpse on an autopsy slab is brilliant and terrifying

or Jessica's:

Ellroy gets misogyny. He gets bigotry and racism. Ellroy gets brutality and violence. He gets crime. He gets sexuality, he gets desire, he gets pain. He gets honesty. He gets dissimulation and avoidance.

He gets memoir.


I too was mesmerised by his confessional style and rat a tat prose, from the start I was coshed and dragged down an alley and then beaten – or maybe stabbed - relentlessly by those short grim sentences. Mostly that was good, or bracing or something. There were fantastic sections, e.g on his growing up on drugs and drink and stalking women and breaking and entering.

It all has been covered elsewhere, so I’ll concentrate here on a couple of things that struck me. One was about his disturbing erotic obsession with his mother and her pitiful death. Is some of it due to the fixation some of us have based around the time our first sexual perceptions are formed, as we change from child to adult – 10,11,12? Using myself as research it may be why I find the mid-to late sixties dress, and manners, the beginning touches of the psychedelic, that strange 'milking a cow' gestures of ‘go go’ dancing in films like ‘Harper’ so appealing while most people think they're naff. I seek out films where there might be a glimpse of beehive hairdo and above the knee black and white dresses, and some of that crap energetic, naive dancing. I adore the look and sound of Evie Sands and Sandie Shaw. All stemming from that time in my youth. For Ellroy that time started around the time of his mother's murder, and he's never truly recovered. His hard nose stance, the brutality of his attitude to women and classmates at the Jewish school he attends, his dabbling in drugs and drink can’t hide a deep pain, and the last section where he finally looks at his mother's history, her life rather than her death was probably the most moving and necessary after a book filled with such focus on death and deviance. Mind you Ellroy would probably laugh his socks off at that - there's a very derogatory remark about 'closure' (sorry I haven't got the book with me to give a direct quote).

I did find the recapitulations of the events leading up to his mother's death, although underlining the obsessive nature of his quest, and evoking the painstaking nature of police procedures, sometimes numbing, like those reality TV programmes that summarise everything that went before every ten minutes, in case you’re too stupid to remember.

The litany of murders, one after the other, I found deeply disturbing, depressing, (although other GRers haven’t), particularly the one that also comes up later in the book, the Robbie and Daddy Beckett case where a lad takes his teenage girlfriend home to his dad to rape and murder (maybe because I have teenage daughters).

So I was bludgeoned, scared, depressed, on some mad repetitive high followed by the grungiest down ever, but impressed, shaken up. Not sure I will read another Ellroy yet, despite universal GR adoration. Don't know if I could take it. I must be a wuss.

Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews777 followers
February 18, 2013

At some time between 35 and 40 I started on this downward (?) spiral of crime shows. I was never one to really watch them and couldn’t understand the appeal, but after my fourth child I caught a Law and Order marathon and was hooked. It moved on from there… as did the spin offs and then came CSI and all its iterations and then Criminal Minds and oh hell, Dexter… love that guy…. It got to the point that my children would get that Dr. Phil look and ask me why I watched these shows. I really don’t know. But, it’s not like there isn’t an audience… BIO is totally feeding my addiction with I dated a Psycho’ and ‘Monstresses’ and “Bad Husbands’ and ‘Casanova Killers’... Christ.. stop me now.

It is not something I’m particularly proud of.

True Crime books were never a big draw though. I often wondered why… maybe my escapism was limited to the cathode colored pictures and not the images that I could conjure in my own twisted mind. I guess I didn’t want to go there. I’ve read In Cold Blood, I’ve read Helter Skelter… I GUESS I want to read a lot more than I thought.. I have quite a few 'I want to read'books from this list on GR….

Maybe I’m (d)evolving.

My Dark Places is rubbernecking at its best. I mean the first line: “Some kids found her.” Is that how he thinks when people ask about his mom? First blush? ‘Some kids found her.’ I totally get that. I love it. Ellroy was 10 when his mom was murdered. He was in his 40s when he began to deal with it. I get that too. I think that you grow up with one set of memories of your parents and when you become a parent you start to see that memories are easily manipulated. Not that Ellroy has kids..no, he just got sober and thought ‘what the fuck, time to deal.’ Or at least that’s what I assume happened.

“ I lived in two worlds.
Compulsive fantasies ruled my inner world. The outside world intruded all too often. I never learned to hoard my thoughts and hold them for private moments. My two worlds clashed continually.
I wanted to crash the outside world. I wanted to wow the outside world with my sense of drama. I knew that access to my thoughts would make people love me. It was a common teenage conceit.
I wanted to take my thoughts public. I possessed exhibitionist flair---but lacked stage presence and control of my effects. I came off as a desperate clown.”

Ellroy is one fucked up muthafuckah. But, man is he elegant. He gives us ‘just the facts, ma’am’ and then switches to hardcore ‘this is your life, Leroy Ellroy’ back again to objective timelines… but the whole time you can feel him start to unravel.. start to see that what he thought was real was just the ‘inner world’ that molded him. His first love was Elizabeth Short. He played serial killer and savior within the same fantasy. He biked to famous kill spots around Hollywood. He went through a Nazi fascist phase, he chewed on prophylhexedrine cotton wads, lived in parks and ran from voices only he could hear. AGAIN. FUCKED UP.
Yes, it’s tragic. But, he comes off as stronger for it and damn…, I love me a good dysfunctional man.

What I loved most were the interludes between each section. These little notes to his mother. These are what would keep me coming back. Making me believe there is something worth saving.

“ A cheap Saturday night took you down. You died stupidly and harshly and without the means to hold your own life dear.
Your run to safety was a brief reprieve. You brought me into hiding as your good-luck charm. I failed you as a talisman—so I stand now as your witness.
Your death defines my life. I want to find the love we never had and explicate it in your name.
I want to take your secrets public. I want to burn down the distance between us.
I want to give you breath."

As regret goes, that fucking elegant.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
794 reviews838 followers
May 27, 2012
Loved the phrasing and the author's druggie homeless pervo life story more than the catalogue of vivisected women and the facts of various crimes. Descriptions of mucho paperwork and the prose form the life of the author's murdered mother in ellipsis. Read most of it on location in LA and maybe liked it since I'd just been on the same streets and freeways. Read it thanks to Bolano's recommendation in "Between Parentheses" and liked seeing how this one's occasional transition-less lists of crimes clearly influenced 2666's famous catalogue of vivisected women. The crime's unsolved but it's more an obsessive search for someone long lost than an attempt at closure via belated justice. At times the best DeLillo-y clipped and sculpted language ever. But also often surprisingly boring/stolid/mechanically fact-heavy flat, like the famous 300 pages of 2666. Will definitely read a few Ellroy novels this summer.
Profile Image for David.
422 reviews45 followers
March 25, 2023
2.5 overall.

I hadn't read anything by James Ellroy. I'd seen film versions of 'L.A. Confidential' (not bad) and 'The Black Dahlia' (awful). It seems many readers of crime are enthralled by Ellroy's books but, rather than go the regular route, I opted for this memoir. 

It seems ultimately pointless. I had a keen interest in the effect of a mother's murder on a young person - and we get some of that on a superficial (disturbingly psychosexual) level. Ellroy was the product of an ill-conceived marriage that turned bad. Understandably, it messed him up something fierce... until he got his shit together, more or less. 

But the unsolved murder stayed with him. Decades later - once he was a famous author - he went back to the past, to unravel it, to solve it once and for all.

On the one hand, the persistence of memory (as Dali has called and painted of it) is all-too-human. But, admirable intent notwithstanding, the road back and re-traveled is captured as very long, very repetitive (much of the same info is repeated throughout) and very winding. We get a very long chapter devoted to the detective who eventually returned with Ellroy to 'the scene of the crime'. What the detective's own, painstakingly detailed career has to do with the book's goal is anyone's guess. 

Once the two are a real team, we get pages and pages and pages of dead-ends. At one point, the mother's former landlady, tracked down, cooperates but even so:
She couldn't believe the cops were rehashing such an ancient case.
Neither could I; esp. when so much - and so many tangentially involved - had so long gone cold. (The book ends with a toll-free number and e-mail address for the detective, for anyone with a tip.)  

The most effective part of the book is the early section that covers initial efforts in finding the killer. But from there - aside from Ellroy's descriptions of himself as a wacko teenager - it all soon becomes a blur of peripheral roadkill. 

This just wasn't the book I imagined it might be. It certainly could have been a whole lot shorter. Maybe all we need to realize, without specifics, is that the murder of a family member is its own indelible animal. 
Profile Image for Vaios Pap.
90 reviews10 followers
May 23, 2019
Η πραγματικότητα κάποιες φορές, ξεπερνάει και το μεγαλύτερο λογοτεχνικό αριστούργημα!
Profile Image for Stuart.
165 reviews17 followers
November 2, 2021
Intense. Really intense. I was constantly surprised about how transparent Ellroy was about his feelings for his mother (*uncomfortable cough*) and his harrowing early adulthood - being a homeless, drug-addicted burglar in 60s, 70s LA. He should probably be dead. It's random that he isn't.

At age 10, Ellroy's mother is murdered while he is spending his usual custody weekend with his father. It's grim and heartbreaking. But young Lee Earle (a name he hated and later changed), has a very unusual reaction to it: he's kinda glad. Or at least not unhappy. He wanted to be with his father full time. His father let him curse, drink, smoke, read all the crime novels he could gorge himself on, and roam around LA unsupervised. It also allowed him to never process his mother's death, although Ellroy never delves into this in a direct way. There's not one drop of self-pity. We see all the destructive behavior and we're like... yep.

This is about his mother's murder, yes, but really it's a memoir of a person who saved himself by becoming a writer. Then the writer realizes he has to explore why he wanted to write crime stories in the first place. Things are discovered, left unresolved, spun around in circles, and the denouement is as surprising and chilling as the crime itself. A shiver went up my spine as I closed the book.

Amazing writer. Wonderful read. Dark, real, and illuminating.
Profile Image for Erin Martin.
466 reviews
May 22, 2012
Kill. Me. Now. Mr Ellroy, here's a tip. You aren't paid by the word. I don't have to read the same thing over and over and over again, nor do I want to. And you also don't have to tell everything that comes into your head. Some of your thoughts on your mother made me nauseous. The only reason this got two stars is because I finished it. Only books I stop reading get 1 star.

Oh and here's the best part - you still don't know who killed her!!! Thanks for robbing me of three weeks.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tom.
197 reviews39 followers
July 4, 2022
Possibly the most unique true crime/memoir hybrid I've read, written in a clipped, inimitable style that lends itself perfectly to James Ellroy's deeply personal look at his mother's murder and its outsize place in his life. My Dark Places isn't simply a work looking back; Ellroy actually did legwork for this book: he got himself a partner and chased up old leads and witnesses. The book doesn't just lament the violent mystery at the core of Ellroy's childhood but actually aspires to solve it. There's something of Robert Graysmith's Zodiac about a book that is possibly even more frustrating and intense. It's definitely more uncomfortable, anyway. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lauren.
219 reviews46 followers
July 5, 2016
Narrative was my moral language.

James Ellroy's mother, Geneva "Jean" Hilliker Ellroy, was murdered in 1958. Her murder went unsolved, and her son spent his succeeding decades in the shadow of that event and its lack of resolution. By 1996, when Ellroy published My Dark Places, the only resolution left was longing and the drive to understand. It's not spoiling anything to say that though this memoir in part chronicles Ellroy's attempt--aided by Bill Stoner, cold-case cop extraordinaire--to find the man who killed his mother, he ends the book not knowing.

On the way, you get a lot of investigative detail--eyewitnesses disagree with each other about ethnicities, people's memories get fuzzy, tangents are pursued, stomach contents parsed--but this isn't really traditional true crime. It has its sections of straightforward reportage, but the heart of the book is the long middle section that details Ellroy's long period of grief and delinquency. I've never read anything quite like it. The closest thing I can think of is the raw, undignified moment in The Sharpshooter Blues's where a grieving father puts his son's toothbrush in his mouth to taste his spit, and that's a moment, and this section lasts years. Ellroy's recounting of his alienated lust, his peeping tom history, his panic, his hatred, his performative racism and anti-Semitism, his drinking, his drug use... all of it is laid out with unapologetic bareness and self-knowledge. This is who he was, in some ways maybe who he still is, and he knows that. I don't know how to explain this, exactly (good thing I'm not writing a review, right?), but there's a real beauty and power to that. One of Ellroy's strengths as a novelist is describing things and people as they are, with all attendant ugliness, and then going on to care anyway, and through all the ugliness rather than despite it, and here he turns that on himself with the same superb skill. It's a little breathtaking, and he's persuasive enough that I came away from it feeling like I was the one who'd confessed to something.

The other bravura section is the one on Bill Stoner, and on the obsessions and fixations homicide cops develop for the women they can't save. It's another section that impresses with its baldness. True crime gets accused of fetishizing dead white women, and instead of denying it, Ellroy--who never strikes me as a writer particularly inclined to deny anything--just notes that as the beginning step. Yeah. He's obsessed, Bill Stoner's obsessed, everyone's obsessed, and here's what that looks like and what it means, here's what it feels like from the inside, here's how you contain it and deal with it, here's the nobility in it, here's where it fails.

All of which leaves you as a book that isn't essential reading as a nonfiction account of a murder investigation but is essential reading as autobiography, James Ellroy's and America's. It's only downside is that it sometimes tries to be both of those things at once, but it doesn't have to be perfect to be genuinely great in the oldest sense of the word.
Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 12 books2,717 followers
May 9, 2020
I don't actually like Ellroy, and I think this book shows me why. It is a memoir, both of Ellroy's childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and of his investigation into his mother's murder. Ellroy is very hard-boiled. He talks tough. It's hard to tell whether he himself is racist, misogynistic, and homophobic, or whether he's acutely self-aware and holding up a mirror to our society. I found My Dark Places less relentlessly noir than L.A. Confidential or the other Ellroy book I've read, the name of which I'm blanking on. My Dark Places acknowledges the existence of people who aren't just in it for what they can get out of it. It's also a procedural, deeply enmeshed in the procedure of searching for Jean Ellroy's murderer, the phone calls and interviews, the chasing down of one dud lead after another.

This is another book about cold cases (both Jean Ellroy's and others that Ellroy comes across as he investigates hers), another book with an inconclusive ending. Ellroy makes it a coherent narrative by playing his own psychodrama out as he learns more about his mother and has to face and accept his own wildly contradictory feelings about her. That story arc has pay-off, in that you feel that Ellroy has actually made progress in dealing with his own demons. (It may also be that we should be suspicious of this narrative tidiness, just as it may be that we should be suspicious of the narrative voice's aggressively transparent honesty.) The book is very fast paced and very readable, and I certainly prefer it to Ellroy's fiction.
Profile Image for Stuart.
708 reviews262 followers
June 24, 2013
Here is an intensely personal book by James Ellroy that explores the unsolved murder of his mother when he was just a young boy. It is more of a detective procedural story, without the flash and action of his fiction books. And yet for those familiar for his work, it clearly illuminates his fascination and obsession with the secret and desperate lives of unremarkable people that rarely gets exposed to the larger public. Highly recommended after you have read several of his other books first.
Profile Image for Michelle.
236 reviews8 followers
July 18, 2019
Not only DNF, but I want to personally travel the world to projectile vomit on every extant copy of this disgusting piece of creepy misogynist trash.
Profile Image for Prashanth Bhat.
1,540 reviews88 followers
January 26, 2023
My dark places - James ellroy

ಜೇಮ್ಸ್ ಎಲ್‌ರಾಯ್‌ನ ಓದೋದು ಸುಲಭವಲ್ಲ. ಅವನ ಭಾಷೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅನವಶ್ಯಕ ಪದಗಳ ಹುಡುಕುವುದು ಬಹಳ ಕಷ್ಟ. ಬುಲೆಟ್ ಹೊಡೆದ ಹಾಗಿನ ಶೈಲಿ, ಯಾರಿಗೂ ಬಗ್ಗದ ಪೆಡಸುತನ ನಿರ್ದಯಿ ಬರವಣಿಗೆ.

ತನ್ನನ್ನು ತಾನೇ 'ಡೆಮನ್ ಡಾಗ್ ಆಫ್ ಅಮೆರಿಕನ್ ಕ್ರೈಮ್ ಫಿಕ್ಷನ್' ಎಂದು ಕರೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಅವನು ಬರವಣಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲೂ ದೈತ್ಯನೇ‌. 1950-60 L.A.ಯ ಅವನ ಕಾಲ್ಚೆಂಡು. ಆ ಕಾಲಮಾನದಲ್ಲೇ ಅವನು ಬಂಧಿ.

ಜನ ವಿಕ್ಷಿಪ್ತ. ಯಾಕೆ ಹೀಗೆ ಎಂದು ಹುಡುಕಿದವರಿಗೆ ಇಲ್ಲಿದೆ ಉತ್ತರ.
ಅವನ ತಾಯಿ, ಅವನು ಚಿಕ್ಕವನಿದ್ದಾಗಲೇ ಕೊಲೆಯಾದವಳು. ಆಗವನು ಅಪ್ಪನ ಜೊತೆಗಿದ್ದ. ಅಪ್ಪ ಅಮ್ಮನಿಗೆ ಡೈವೋರ್ಸ್ ಆಗಿತ್ತು. ಅವನಿಗೆ ಅಪ್ಪನ ಜೊತೆ ಹೋಗಲು ಇಷ್ಟ. ಆದರೆ ಕೋರ್ಟು ವಾರದ ಐದು ದಿನ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಜೊತೆ ಎರಡು ದಿನ ಅಪ್ಪನ ಜೊತೆ ಇರಲು ಸಮಯ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿತ್ತು.
ಅವನಮ್ಮನ ಅವನು ದ್ವೇಷಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದ. ಆದರೆ ಆಕೆ ಸತ್ತ ಮೇಲೆ ಅವನೊಳಗೆ ಉಳಿದಳು. ಅವನ ಚರ್ಯೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿಂಬವಾದಳು.
ತಾನೊಬ್ಬ ಪ್ರಸಿದ್ಧ ಬರಹಗಾರ ಎಂದಾದ ಮೇಲೆ ಅಮ್ಮನ ಕೊಲೆ ಕೇಸಿನ ಬೆನ್ನತ್ತಿದ್ದ.‌ಅದು ಮತ್ತೂ ಬಗೆಹರಿಯದ ಕಗ್ಗಂಟಾಗಿತ್ತು.
ಆ ಕಾಲ, ಅವಳು ಯಾಕಾಗಿ ಕೊಲೆ ಆಗಿರಬಹುದು, ಯಾರು ಮಾಡಿರಬಹುದು ಹೀಗೆ ಹುಡುಕಿಕೊಂಡು ಅಲೆದ.

ಅವನಿಗೆ ಉತ್ತರ ಸಿಗಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಉತ್ತರ ಸಿಗದ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳೇ ಬದುಕನ್ನು ಮುನ್ನಡೆಸುವ ದೀಪವಾದ ಕಾರಣ ಅವನು ಮತ್ತೂ ಬರೆದ. ಬರೆಯುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ.

ಇವನ ಮುಟ್ಟುವ ಮೊದಲು ಎಚ್ಚರಿಕೆ. ಯಾಕೆಂದರೆ ಇವನ ಜಗತ್ತಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಒಳ್ಳೆಯವರು ಎಂದು ಯಾರೂ ಇಲ್ಲ!
Profile Image for Belen (f.k.a. La Mala ✌).
846 reviews558 followers
January 29, 2016
Varios meses sufri las idas y venidas de la investigacion de Ellroy .

Muchas historias pertubadoras sobre crimenes paralelos a la pelirroja Jean . Muchas mujeres muertas solo por el hecho de ser mujeres . MUchos hombres que impusieron crueldad solamente porque podian , porque la sociedad lo permitia . Muchas , interminables injusticias que ELlroy explora sin esconder detalles . Mucha maldad , machismo y violencia de genero que brota por los poros del mundo y en particular , en esta nacion violenta que recorre el autor de viaje en viaje . Aca estan esos horrores documentados con la imparcialidad de un ajeno al dolor ; es eso , es lo explicito , la honestidad brutal que hace que este recuento de evidencias y hechos , mentiras y verdades , sea la excelencia que es .

ELLROY X ELLROY . Con todas sus rarezas y todos sus defectos , que sin querer queriendo da catedra sobre quienes son las oprimidas y las victimas de siempre . Y como la gente se acosumbra a que lo sean ( y eso es lo peor de todo , no?)


Estoy en una racha de crimenes sin resolver que no puedo parar ( La mujer de Isdal , Mary Rogers , el caso Taman Shud , ENTRE OTROS apasionantes misterios sin resolver de esos que te sacan el sueño...) y cai en esta autobiografia del autor de L.A. CONFIDENTIAL , cuya madre ES un cold case .

Veamos que tal esta ...
Profile Image for Josh.
1,628 reviews146 followers
January 15, 2012
In 'My Dark Places' James Ellroy reenacts his mothers murder by canvasing the pages of the cold case murder book to deliver a matter-of-fact police procedural with a high degree of emotional detachment - more noticeable given the difficult primary subject. Initially overly descriptive and heavy on nostalgia, this open heart semi biography brings life to ghosts long forgotten and illuminates the troubles of a younger James Ellroy. Both inspiring and frustrating, the procession of the later investigation blends unnecessary and unrelated cases with Ellroy's intriguing real-life murder mystery. Whereas the core focus was on attempting to account for his mothers untimely death, Ellroy did have a tendency to get side tracked and devote too much devil to the detail. One could be excused for thinking this was scripted, the plot had it all; a beautiful woman slain, a child turned bad, an obsession with crime and woman, echoes of a serial killer, a cold case heated by a son's quest for answers, and a whole of lot family drama. Throw in a few emotional twists and there isn't much to separate 'My Dark Places' from blockbuster fiction - except fact.

This was a hard book to read - at times bogged down with insignificant detail and internal dialogue - while others, unrelenting and utterly captivating. 'My Dark Places' is just that, Ellroy takes the reader deep inside his soul leaving no dark, damp corner unmolested or blood soaked stone unturned - 3.5 stars.
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