Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A "C" From the Health Inspector

Page 8

In those days Leimert Park was a nice, middle-class neighborhood on the fringe of the more fashionable Adams District west of downtown Los Angeles.

Here, in a few words, “Mogul” demonstrates its lack of familiarity with two historic Los Angeles areas that are nearly three miles apart, a definition of “West Adams adjacent” that even the lowest real estate agent would find excessive. Wolfe’s psychological map of Los Angeles (an exercise wonderfully described in “Shotgun Freeway”) is a little distorted. (Here’s a clip of the movie).

Sunrise was at 6:53 a.m. on Wednesday, January 15, 1947.

Incredibly, even this simply verified fact is wrong. Does this matter by itself? Not unless your faith dictates that you make a religious observation at a particular time. Does it become worrisome when added to all the other errors? Absolutely. More important, if a researcher can’t get simple things correct, how can he be trusted with far more complicated material still to come?

What “Mogul” is setting up in all of this is the discovery of the body, which I assume (remember I’m blogging in real time and not reading ahead) will be followed by the rest of the story told in flashbacks.

This is the standard “Laura” treatment of the Black Dahlia murder, following the structure of the Vera Caspary novel made into the 1944 movie with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. As Caspary discovered, this is a wonderful structure for a novel—which is quite good and I recommend it—a classic film noir, a crummy play and above-average radio play that aired on the Lux Radio Theatre several times.

Flashbacks are the standard structure used in “Severed,” John Gregory Dunne’s “True Confessions” and James Ellroy’s “The Black Dahlia.” Even Robert Lenski used it in the Lucie Arnaz TV movie “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” Of course the problem is that although this is fine for fiction, it’s terrible for history because the investigation wasn’t linear or chronological. So we’ll see how Wolfe handles this.

At about 10:30 a.m. a Leimert Park resident, Betsy Bersinger….

Uh-oh. This is bad. Really, really bad work. In our mythical restaurant inspection, this would be like the health department discovering roaches in the guacamole. The woman who found the body (a very gracious lady whom I interviewed) is named Betty, not Betsy. This is like writing a history of World War II and referring to Arnold Hitler.

The literary health inspector has just slapped a C on “Mogul.” One more slip and I’m closing you down.

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