This is the second Black Dahlia book I’ve read. The first one being the one most people with a passing interest in this case would have come across: James Ellroy’s superb fictional version. Obviously, like all great Ellroy, that’s an over the top and over-ripe version of the story. But reading this true-crime version, it’s amazing how many truths and hints of truths Ellroy slipped into his narrative. If BLACK DAHLIA, RED ROSE is to be believed, the reality also seemed to have an abundance of corrupt cops, a conspiracy in high places, and powerful people doing all they could to stop the truth getting out.
Okay, this may be only the second book I read, but not long ago I listened to the Hollywood & Crime podcast series on the Black Dahlia and it’s still fresh in my mind. But it’s amazing how much the telling of the tale, the direction its steered in, can change the whole story. The podcast concentrated on the spate of murders of women with dark hair that happened in LA at much the same time. Positing that that the Dahlia killer may have been more prolific than thought. That’s alluded to here, but the book instead goes down another alleyway. Trying to solve the case and pinning the whole thing on a man who, in the Hollywood & Crime version, is dismissed as a red herring.
The theory suggested here is an interesting one, and Eatwell does a thorough job of building it all up. But still, I think it maybe stretches credibility too far. It brought to mind Daniel Farson’s comments in the preface to his Jack the Ripper book. That he believed, in some afterlife, all Ripperologists would be brought together and have the true identity of Jack the Ripper revealed them. And each and every one of them would stare blankly as the name struck no bell with them at all.
BLACK DAHLIA, RED ROSE is worth a read for anyone interested in the case. It had a great sense of time and place and really manages to evoke the LA of the 1940s. But most importantly, it takes a complex and difficult case – with a vast array of characters – and tells it in a way that’s feels clear and almost straightforward.