My Dark Places by James Ellroy, adapted by Steve Chambers

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BBC World Service, 24 January 2009
Superficially this was just another detective story revolving around the author's quest to find out who murdered his mother when he was ten years old. This adaptation was set in two historical periods; in 1958 when the murder actually took place, and in the mid-1990s when Ellroy (by now a fully-fledged detective novelist) returned to his past to find out exactly what happened to her. Along the way we learned quite a lot about his family; how his mother (Barbara Barnes) cultivated a facade of respectability in the quiet Los Angeles suburb were she lived; and how she looked after the young Ellroy. In truth she was a woman of fairly loose morals - who might have been described in 1950s slang as a "good-time girl" - enjoying male company and actively seeking it in local bars. Ellroy hated living with her, preferring to live with his father (Kerry Shale).
Time passed; and still no solution could be found to his mother's murder. Even when the grown-up Ellroy (Toby Stephens) returned to the case, he remained none the wiser. Like all good thrillers, My Dark Places was full of red herrings - so many, in fact, that the truth never emerged. The author seemed far more interested in his developing state of mind. As a boy he had consciously tried to expunge the tragedy of his mother's dead from his mind, in the belief that this was the only way to survive. As an adult, however, all of his repressed memories flooded back, to such an extent that his life nearly fell apart. It was only when he realised that solving the riddle of his mother's dead had no real significance, that he could begin to recover. Gradually he learned to celebrate his mother's life; in all her forty-two years she had enjoyed herself to the utmost. Although not setting a good example, she had made the best of her modest background. Once Ellroy realised this, so he began to love her for what she was, rather than what he expected her to be.
Told through a mixture of dramatic dialogue and asides delivered direct to the listener (pace Philip Marlowe), My Dark Places focused directly on the issue of writing detective thrillers. Did it really matter who the murderer was, as the author gradually achieved self-recognition? The answer to this question was obvious. Marion Nancarrow directed this World Drama production.