Review: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder: The True Story

Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder: The True Story
Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder: The True Story by Steve Hodel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this was an interesting one. It wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other Dahlia-related books I’ve read. Understood the concepts of coherence and logic, and didn’t resort to a whole lot of “And this place was where this guy sometimes went, and that guy once bought a lawnmower from this guy, who once said hi to a lady at this place, which is where my dad once read a book, so my daddy did it!” unlike my personal love-to-hate-it Daddy was the Black Dahlia Killer… but it still feels forced and artificial.

The communiques ostensibly from other law-enforcement officers and forensics professions seem off, in a way I can’t quite explain. The language doesn’t seem right, and they tend to be too full of congratulatory notes saying how awesome the author is. While I personally can agree with much of what is said – and the photographs, assuming they aren’t staged, are fairly compelling – I still feel like someone was tidying it up and hiding other potential possibilities.

Now, supposedly, there are a great many officials – in real life, as opposed to claims made by the author or the book – who subscribe to this theory, some even going so far as to say it’s 100% true and the Dahlia case has been solved… though, one notes, the case is still listed as “open.” Again, I don’t have a problem with the idea – it fits well enough, it’s reasonably logical until the last few pages, and the purported evidence our author submits seems to fit. It just feels too tidy, a little too much like a Patterson novel or a Lifetime TV Movie. That may just be the part of me that doesn’t want the Dahlia case to be definitively solved (or Jack the Ripper, or JFK’s death); the part that says the mystery is the allure, and actually solving it would take the demented fun out of it.

Still, that’s just emotion and whimpering. The book itself is well written, it’s interesting and it gets the point across, even if it does feel a little too pedantic or self-congratulatory at times. The one issue that I have with the book itself is the last few pages, wherein our author discusses his father’s first romance with an older woman, that resulted in a daughter named “Folly,” that was supposedly the impetus for his later crimes. It felt tacked on, rather silly, and is probably why I liken it to Patterson. “We must have a central, single event that led to this crime spree, so it can all be explained in a nice tidy way.” Even if true, it feels too clean and simple for real life.

And then there’s the last page. Where the author tells us that, after finishing the manuscript, he learned new and fascinating facts that call everything into question and require further exploration. (So hurry and go buy the sequel, okay!). A cliffhanger ending with an advertisement for your sequel seems out of place in a book that is supposedly factual. If you had new info that called your findings into question, or shed additional light on them, why not work it in? The copy I have is a first printing, and they had time to add that extra page, so it’s not as though the text was set in stone at that point… just feels hinky. Of course, now I’m going to have to read the second book, and see if that changes my opinion. Oh well.

Final word? Worth reading if serial killers in general or the Black Dahlia case in particular are of interest to you. True or not, the book gives some lovely insight into investigative methods and possible motivations for such actions. They also paint a suitably lurid picture of a modern monster. Take from it what you will.

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