Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Black Dahlia Case Solved Again!

An opportunistic hack writes a “new” (read cut-and-pasted from earlier books, documentaries and novels) book about the murder of Elizabeth Short, aka the “Black Dahlia” every few years. Said book is always ballyhooed for providing the definitive solution to this case, usually postulating some labyrinthine conspiracy involving several famous, powerful people or one killer who, while not famous, is a sufficiently bizarre character to elicit the reader’s fascination.

Steve Hodel fingered his dead father, Dr. George Hodel not long ago in his Black Dahlia Avenger. Donald Wolfe’s new book offers a ridiculous solution to the murder implicating mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler as the chief suspects.

Larry Harnisch is an authentic scholar of the life and death of Beth Short and a scrupulous historian to boot. He is currently reading, dissecting and blogging about Wolfe’s book. I find Harnisch’s efforts amusing and fascinating.

I don’t know how Mr. Harnisch can avoid throwing Wolfe’s risible book down and screaming. Especially as Harnisch, whose web site I’ve visited repeatedly, said he plans to write his own account of the case. I don’t know how he can sit still and watch these other books come and go while his remains unpublished.

When I began researching the life of actor Nick Adams, I was intrigued by stories in articles and books on Hollywood’s unsolved mysteries that claimed there were mysterious circumstances surrounding his death suggesting he may have been murdered. Then I read the reports of Adams’s death published in several local newspapers when I accessed the microfiche file on Adams at the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Margaret Herrick library. I discovered that the principal assertion underpinning the murder theory was bogus. If you want to read my deconstruction of this, please scroll down towards the end of my article on Nick Adams. It’s an exemplar, writ small, of how opportunists transform easily explained events into conspiracies or unsolved mysteries.

I submitted my book proposal to a literary agent named Bart Andrews in one of my last attempts to get an agent to represent my biography of Adams. He wrote me back a quasi-rejection letter that was the most detailed I’d ever gotten and one in which he referred to several things in my proposal. My proposal drew an analogy between my book and two true crime books, A Cast of Killers and Hot Toddy.

Andrews remarked that he was a friend of the editor of those books and read their proposals, which he wrote, read like fine novels.

I got a hold of both books, and while I might disagree about how well they stand up as works of fiction, they certainly do read like novels, because in many respects they are fictional. Then again, it was about that time that the term “narrative nonfiction” became the big buzzword in publishing. So what do I know?

I suppose I can console myself with the near certainty that no one besides me is interested in writing a book about Nick Adams since there’s no money in it. Unlike Larry Harnisch, I won’t have to sit by, enraged, while someone else gets to the finish line first with some abysmal pile of thrice told tales and make believe.

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