Book Review: My Dark Places


My Dark Places

James Ellroy

Random House Value Publishing

427 pages

James Ellroy was just a young boy in 1958 when his mother Jean was brutally murdered. Living in California at the time, James came home from weekend visitation with his father to find the cottage her and his mother shared swarming with police. From then on, James’s life was completely changed.

Having dealt with his parents’ bitter divorce, Ellroy explores in his memoir how the murder of his mother changed his perception of her over the years. At first, he seemed pleased to have her out of the way. His father held an unmasked contempt and hatred for his mother, so Ellroy no longer was forced to choose sides and could live happily ever after with his father. He realized pretty quickly though that maybe life with dad wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Ellroy struggled to find his place in the world, and the backdrop of his anger and lack of ambition was the death of his mother. As he finally found his place in the world, his career as an author began to take root, and he found himself feeling more empathy for the woman he hadn’t seen since he was 10 years old.

Eventually, Ellroy hooks up with the detective working Jean’s murder as a cold case, and the two strive to uncover what happened to her all those decades earlier. I won’t spoil it for you by letting you know whether they were successful, but it was great following their investigation.


I loved certain elements of this book. Ellroy was a huge fan of crime pulp fiction in the ’50s, and he used a lot of the jargon to really set the scene in that manner. I really loved that aspect and thought it was fresh and fun.

That being said, at over 400 pages I really felt this book could be edited to almost half that length. It started to feel never ending and I lost steam. On the flip side, I loved the combination of memoir and true crime. It worked really well, and Ellroy was able to break down the facts before interjecting his own thoughts and feelings into the narrative.

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