Cover image for My dark places : an L.A. crime memoir
My dark places : an L.A. crime memoir
Ellroy, James, 1948-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : A.A. Knopf, 1996.
Physical Description:
351 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3555.L6274 Z466 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3555.L6274 Z466 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3555.L6274 Z466 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3555.L6274 Z466 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS3555.L6274 Z466 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In 1958 Jean Ellroy was murdered, her body dumped on a roadway in a seedy L.A. suburb. Her killer was never found, and the police dismissed her as a casualty of a cheap Saturday night. James Ellroy was ten when his mother died, and he spent the next thirty-six years running from her ghost and attempting to exorcize it through crime fiction. In 1994, Ellroy quit running. He went back to L.A., to find out the truth about his mother - and himself. In My Dark Places, our most uncompromising crime writer - author of American Tabloid and White Jazz - tells what happened when he teamed up with a brilliant homicide cop to investigate a murder that everyone else had forgotten - and to reclaim the mother he had despised, desired, but never dared to love. What ensues is an epic of loss, fixation, and redemption, a memoir that is also a history of the American way of violence.

Author Notes

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L. A. Quartet novels - "The Black Dahlia", "The Big Nowhere", "L. A. Confidential", & "White Jazz" - were international best-sellers. His novel "American Tabloid" was Time magazine's Novel of the Year for 1995; his memoir, "My Dark Places", was a "Time" Best Book of the Year & a "New Yorker Times" Notable Book for 1996. He lives in Kansas City.

(Publisher Provided) James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles, California on March 4, 1948. His parents were divorced and he moved in with his father after his mother was murdered in 1958. The story of his mother's unsolved murder would become the basis for his 1996 nonfiction work entitled My Dark Places. He attended Fairfax High School, where he sent Nazi pamphlets to girls he liked and criticized JFK, while advocating the reinstatement of slavery. He was eventually expelled for preaching Nazism in his English class.

He joined the army after his expulsion from school, but after realizing that he did not belong there, he faked a stutter and convinced the army psychologist that he was not mentally fit for combat. After three months, he received a dishonorable discharge and returned home. His father died soon thereafter. He was thrown in juvenile hall for stealing a steak from the local market. When he got out, his father's friend became his guardian, but by the age of eighteen, he was back on the streets. He was sleeping outside, stealing, drinking and experimenting with drugs. It wasn't long before he was thrown in jail for breaking into a vacant apartment.

When he got out of jail, he started a job at an adult book store, his addictions growing progressively larger. He was misusing the drug Benzedrex, a sinus inhalent which nearly drove him to Schizophrenia and his drinking was ruining his health. He contracted pneumonia twice as well as a condition called post-alchohol brain syndrome. Fearing for his sanity, he joined AA, became sober and found a job as a golf caddy.

At the age of 30, he wrote his first novel entitled Brown's Requiem, which was published in 1981. His other works include Clandestine, Blood on the Moon, Because the Night, Suicide Hill, Killer on the Road, and The Cold Six Thousand. His works The Black Dahlia and L. A. Confidential were adapted into feature films.

Ellroy's title, Perfidia, made the New York Times bestseller list in 2014.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Crime novelist Ellroy (American Tabloid) was 10 in 1958 when his mother, a divorced nurse and closet alcoholic, was found strangled to death in a deserted schoolyard in California's San Gabriel Valley. The case was still unsolved in 1994, when Ellroy hired retired L.A. homicide detective Bill Stoner to investigate. In this emotionally raw, hypnotic memoir, Ellroy ventures into the murky, Oedipal depths of his lifelong obsession with sex crimes and police work, setting his mother's murder against a grisly backdrop of similar L.A. homicides, from the 1947 Black Dahlia case (the subject of Ellroy's 1987 novel The Black Dahlia) to the indictment of O.J. Simpson. Ellroy recounts his troubled coming-of-age: in the wake of his mother's death, he immersed himself in the Nazi literature, petty theft, voyeurism, pornography and crime fiction that pollinated his flowering "tabloid sensibility." Eventually bottoming out on booze and drugs, he sobered up in AA and moved to the East Coast to write fiction. Returning to L.A., Ellroy culls LAPD archives to reconstruct the 1958 investigation of his mother's murder. While he fails to figure out who killed her, he unravels her secretive life, exploring the dalliances and weekend binges she hid from her son and ex-husband. If Baudelaire had produced an episode of Dragnet, it might have resembled the feverish, staccato way Ellroy confronts his mother's ghost, re-staging her murder with creepy meticulousness and addressing her repeatedly in the second person. Ellroy's degraded tough-guy shtick at times sounds disingenuously novelistic, and it occasionally gets mired in lists of sex crimes amassed from police archives. That the book lacks the closure or catharsis it sets out to achieve, however, is just one of the hard-won lessons of this deeply disquieting glimpse into Ellroy's heart of darkness and his ongoing battle with the past. Photos not seen by PW. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Novelist Ellroy on a very dark place: his mother's unsolved murder. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



My father put me in a cab at the El Monte depot. He paid the driver and told him to drop me at Bryant and Maple. I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to leave my father. I wanted to blow off El Monte forever. It was hot--maybe ten degrees more than L.A. The driver took Tyler north to Bryant and cut east. He turned on Maple and stopped the cab. I saw police cars and official-type sedans parked at the curb. I saw uniformed men and men in suits standing in my front yard. I knew she was dead. This is not a revised memory or a retrospective hunch. I knew it in the moment--at age ten--on Sunday, June 22nd, 1958. I walked into the yard. Somebody said, "There's the boy." I saw Mr. and Mrs. Krycki standing by their back door. A man took me aside and kneeled down to my level. He said, "Son, your mother's been killed." I knew he meant "murdered." I probably trembled or shuddered or weaved a little bit. The man asked me where my father was. I told him he was back at the bus station. A half-dozen men crowded around me. They leaned on their knees and checked me out up-close. They saw one lucky kid. A cop split for the bus station. A man with a camera walked me back to Mr. Krycki's toolshed. He put an awl in my hand and posed me at a workbench. I held on to a small block of wood and pretended to saw at it. I faced the camera-- and did not blink or smile or cry or betray my internal equilibrium. The photographer stood in a doorway. The cops stood behind him. I had a rapt audience. The photographer shot some film and urged me to improvise. I hunched over the wood and sawed at it with a half-smile/ half-grimace. The cops laughed. I laughed. Flashbulbs popped. Excerpted from My Dark Places: An L. A. Crime Memoir by James Ellroy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.