The first major sequence in James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia revolves around a boxing match between the protagonist, beat-cop Bucky Bleichert and his soon-to-be-partner Lee Blanchard. The fight takes place at the end of the fourth chapter, and it’s loaded with stakes: personal stakes, for Bleichert and his father; professional stakes, given his advancement in the police department is dependent on this fight; social stakes, since the bout is a ploy to garner public support for a bill that will earn the police department money; and, ultimately, big emotional stakes, because everything is in balanced against each other. A win on the personal side of things means tanking his professional advancement. He can have one, at the cost of the other.
So the entire fight is one big choice for Bleichert, where he figures out the kind of man he’s going to be for the rest of the book. It feels more intense than the climax of most novels, and you’re only 10% of the way through the book. It artisinal, in the old-school sense, where you can see the quality of the workmanship as a layperson, but you’re in awe of it if you know the details of what you’re looking at. You can see the labour that’s gone into the book.
It does this so well I basically read it, had a lie down, and contemplated giving up writing because…damn.