The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (Mysterious Press) James Ellroy calls himself the 'Demon Dog' of crime fiction and who's to argue. The sparkling familiarity with the seedier sides of life in his work can only come from a man who has his nose in the gutter, and his fascination with crime, particularly the Los Angeles variety, can only have been stoked by a personal attachment to the city and its history. Ellroy (right) grew up in the LA suburbs - where his mother was murdered when he was just 10. It was a killing that went unsolved - and to which he would turn his hand later in the disturbingly frank confessional My Dark Places. But by that stage in his life Ellroy had already become obsessed with one of LA's most famous unsolved crimes, the brutal butchering in 1947 of the beautiful Elizabeth Short - the woman the tabloid press dubbed the Black Dahlia. There were similarities between the two murders and Ellroy forges the link in permanency by dedicating this work thus: 'Mother: Twenty-nine Years Later, This Valediction in Blood'. Talk about setting a tone. By the time he wrote the book, Ellroy had already established himself - and, more important, his style - as the most exciting thing in crime fiction. The Black Dahlia - the first book of what would become known as the LA Quartet - really showed Ellroy's remarkable talent for mixing fact and fiction. The focus is on the Dahlia's murder, who she might have been, what might have happened, and two cops caught up in the investigation (one of whom tells the tale). Swirling around it are characters both real and imagined. It's all grit and grime too, lashed with sordid sex. What grabs you is how quickly and easily Ellroy allows his audience to become intimately involved with his characters. You seem to know them after a sentence - and know what they are all about. And the streets of LA become a living, breathing part of the whole sorry story, too. It's dark and it harks back to the very best of film noir - but gets away with a language and a violence Hollywood would never allow (as the disappointing 2006 film version showed). There are any number of side stories to engage the reader - and to distract - and it all works to keep you guessing, engaged, until the very end. Ellroy just seems to know exactly how we like our dirt dished.