James Ellroy was 10 years old when his mother was raped and strangled, her corpse dumped on a playground in a white-trash L.A. suburb. Ellroy didn't react the way people might have expected; he was secretly happy to be rid of her. Over the next few decades he went from juvenile delinquency to alcoholism to his present role as possibly the best crime novelist in America—all the while fueling his considerable drives with often unwholesome memories and images of his mother. In My Dark Places, his latest book and first non-fiction effort, Ellroy goes back to L.A. with a hired detective to try and pay back the debt he feels he owes his mother by solving her murder. As much autobiography as true-crime tale, My Dark Places is an almost numbingly honest retelling of the author's harrowingly weird childhood; the time when he became interested in crime fiction and murdered women; and the principle that underlies all his writing—that the twin forces driving humanity are evil and weakness. In the end, Ellroy's investigation, however fruitless, expands Jean Ellroy from a hated, barely-remembered parent into a tragic human being while simultaneously reaffirming her as a primal force behind his writing. Wrenching, brutal and entirely without sentiment, My Dark Places transcends crime writing and becomes a blinding exploration of a feverishly talented man's mind.