| The author, a 20-year retired LAPD homicide detective, finds a smal photo album that belonged to his recently deceased father and, among other things, finds a nude photo of a girl he believes to be Elizabeth Short AKA Black Dahlia. Thus starts a 3-year investigation and 560-page book detailing his dad, Short, and the reasons why he believes the former killed the latter.
Most of this book is extremely interesting. A lot of the evidence Hodel puts together about Short and his dad is enough to convince me that he was indeed the killer. It's kind of like reading a Michael Connelly book where Harry Bosch looks through the murder book for the 8th time and finally sees the connections, except this is REAL.
However, I think the author succumbed to a syndrome I see sometimes with movies. It happens for more than just movies and I don't know the scientific term for it (if there is such a thing) but I call it Magnolia syndrome. The flip-side of the coin is another behavior I call Brian Helgeland syndrome. Allow me to explain:
When you sit down to watch a movie, ideally it's with a completely unbiased and unexpectational mindset. You let the movie unfold and you either like it or you don't. At either end of the spectrum, there's a certain point that, once the movie crosses that point, it starts building upon itself like a snowball into an avalanche. Whem a movie is bad, after a certain point there is absolutely nothing you can't make fun of. Every aspect of the film is crap and there's nothing it can do to redeem itself in your eyes (it happens to me a lot with movies that Brian Helgeland writes). If the movie's good however, after a certain point you recognize every single frame as inspired work of genius. The collar of the shirt is slightly ajar because his soul is out of whack and the car that drives by in the background is symbolic and every watch band, cup of coffee, and necktie is either a masonic reference or 8:2 (as is the case of Magnolia). It doesn't really matter if the director or writer was actually going for that or whether it was an accident or was really supposed to mean something much less interesting, at that point the movie can do no wrong.
I think that's what happened to Steve Hodel as he was conducting his investigation. He found out so much evil crap about his dad that, once he pinned him on Dahlia, all of these other murders followed suit via Magnolia syndrome. In the book, not only does he like his dad for Elizabeth Short but 8 other single women found murdered around that time along with about 20 other murders which he isn't positive about but believes may be probable. Furthermore, he believes that his dad's old buddy was also a murderer that helped him and continued on his own after his dad fled the country in 1950. For the Short stuff (and two other girls), I believe his evidence is pretty convincing. For all this other stuff, it gets pretty thin. Looking on Amazon, I see his new book is about how his dad was actually the Lipstick killer in Chicago, the Jigsaw killer in the phillipines, and the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. To me, that's Magnolia effect at work.
But that doesn't change the evidence and timeline he's put together as far as Black Dahlia goes. And I guess it is a pretty chilling question to ask yourself: This guy lived into his 90s, spent most of his life super rich, and GOT AWAY WITH IT. If the kind of guy who could cut Elizabeth Short in half, taunt the police, kill another girl just to keep the papers interested, and have sex with his daughter GETS AWAY WITH IT, I wonder what else he did in the intervening 50 years between 1950 and his death. Was he a sensationalistic serial killer wherever he lived? Who knows... maybe.
In the end, the guy's dead so we'll never know any of this. Thinking about it does chill your bones a bit though, and it's nice to finally have someone I can comfortably believe is responsible for Black Dahlia.