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L.A. Quartet #2

The Big Nowhere

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This work is set in 1950s, Los Angeles. The City of Angels has become the city of the Angel of Death. Communist witch-hunts and insanely violent killings are terrorising the community. Three men are plunged into a malestrom of violence and deceit when their lives become inextricably linked as each one confronts his own personal darkness.

472 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1988

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About the author

James Ellroy

125 books3,712 followers
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

Ellroy is known for a "telegraphic" writing style, which omits words other writers would consider necessary, and often features sentence fragments. His books are noted for their dark humor and depiction of American authoritarianism. Other hallmarks of his work include dense plotting and a relentlessly pessimistic worldview. Ellroy has been called the "Demon Dog of American crime fiction."

See also http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0255278/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 659 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
April 25, 2019
"It was written that I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness.

Newspapers labelled the death of José Gallardo Diaz the Sleepy Lagoon Murder because his unconscious body was found near a local swimming hole. The police arrested 17 Hispanic males for the “murder” even though they had no evidence that a murder had occurred. Diaz was inebriated and eventually died from a fracture at the base of the skull. No one was able to determine exactly how the fracture occurred. He could have just fallen or been in a car accident, details are sketchy. Regardless all 17 of the Hispanics were sentenced to varying lengths of jail time. 9 were convicted of second-degree murder and sent to San Quentin. This was 1942.

It pissed a lot of people off.

 photo zoot-suit_zpsd26acd7b.jpg
The “unpatriotic” Zoot-Suits being admired by a police officer and a passing young woman.

In 1943 war has broken out and thousands of White American sailors and marines are stationed in Los Angeles. They find the Zoot Suits worn by the Hispanic males as unpatriotic and too extravagant to be worn during war. Riots broke out with sailors and marines cruising the streets looking for Zoot Suits to slash with razor blades embedded in 2x4s.

 photo Zoot-SuitSticks_zps7b599fa5.jpg
Sailors and Marines keeping America safe from the invasion of Zoot-Suits.

Sigh. Really?

Flash forward to 1950s Los Angeles and a mutilated body is found with Zoot Suit Stick wounds. There are realistic fears that if this were to come to light that it could spark another riot. The case is further compounded by the fact that it is suspected the victim is a homosexual. The investigating officer Danny Upshaw already knows how his fellow officers will label the crime.


Homophobia is a pathological condition in 1950.

Even though Upshaw is told to let this investigation slide back into the primordial desires from which it sprung... he cannot. He is dealing with conflicting feelings about his own sexual orientation and there are circumstances regarding the death that are beyond just torture, beyond just murder. He is a rising star in the department and when Lieutenant Mal Considine is asked to head up a task force investigating Communism in Hollywood Upshaw is asked to join the team. If he keeps his nose clean he could be the youngest man to ever receive Lieutenants bars.

You know how it is. Stick with us kid and you’ll go places.

Now Considine is a piece of work. While he was making the world safe for democracy in Europe his wife was hiding the salami with one of his co-workers Buzz Meeks. He finds out about it and falls in lust with a Czechoslovakian woman who had been the mistress of a Nazi officer that just happens to be on trial. She tells him stories about the sexually perverted things this Nazi used to do to her.

It turns him on.
It infuriates him.

He shoots the Nazi in the face several times.

Because he is a rising star, and after all it is only a Nazi the whole incident is swept under the carpet. He brings the woman back to the states and marries her.

In 1950 she wants a divorce. She tells him that all those things that she told him about the Nazi were made up because she could tell how much it turned him on. He beats her to a pulp. We aren’t talking a few love slaps or a punch or two in anger this is teeth flying, bones breaking, may never look the same again kind of beating.

It will be alright Mal, your future is still bright. This will all be worked out after all she is barely a citizen.

 photo HowardHughes_zpsf3e5eb65.jpg
Buzz find me something young and fresh.

Buzz Meeks is a disgraced cop for a variety of infractions, but lands on his feet with a job pimping underage girls for Howard Hughes. He also provides some muscle for Mickey Cohen the reigning Jewish Gangster in Los Angeles. Because of his “special talents” mainly doing whatever someone wants to pay him to do he is asked to join the Communist Task Force. He’s not so sure because he was shot up pretty bad a few years ago and he thinks that Considine might have arranged the hit as payback for the before mentioned salami work he did with the ex-wife. Meeks has another problem he is making the beast with two backs with Cohen’s best girl.

 photo MickeyCohen_zpsbe346f9e.jpg
Buzz, I love you, but I’m going to have to kill you. It can be slow or it can be fast what you say next is going to decide which.

Death wish much?

More corpses show up. Cops are shot. Betrayal is the natural order of business creating unlikely allies in a race to discover who will die next and who needs to die next. Jazz musicians, burglary, wolverines, heroin, queer escort services., a promiscuous communist Emma Goldman want-a-be, crooked cops, a woman sleeping with a revolving door of men for the lord, all perfectly natural circumstances to show up in a James Ellroy novel. This is an ambitious novel and Ellroy as always isn’t afraid to hold up the grotesque for us to see. The book is full of interesting, flawed characters who will continue to create involuntary shudders from me for the next several months. Ellroy does have one white knight, but he is so scrambled mentally that he sinks under the constriction of his own confusion.

I found the book ponderous which is why despite the Herculean effort by Ellroy I landed on three stars. There was so much going on that I felt overwhelmed and wanted Ellroy to wrap up some of the loose threads sooner. The book is subtitled The Red Scare 1950 and I wanted more of the investigation into Communism, but the characters became too mired in their personal problems shoving that part of the book to a backburner.

Ellroy was criticized for being too flagrant with his depiction of a homophobic America. Maybe he does bludgeon the reader with the stupid behavior surrounding homophobia, but then Ellroy always uses a big stick when he is trying to make a point. I enjoyed the other two novels in the L.A. Quartet: The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. The fourth book,White Jazz, I still need to read and after I shake off some of the weight of this book I will certainly read it as well.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,973 followers
September 5, 2016
Can you dig this, hepcat?

It’s January 1, 1950 in Los Angeles. A witch hunt for commies in the movie industry is gearing up under the guise of patriotism, but its real agenda is to make the careers of the ruthless men running it and help the studios keep labor costs down. Corruption scandals have created a lot of bad blood between the city cops and the county sheriff’s department. Rival gangsters Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen are fighting for control of the town. Everybody is too busy with their own schemes to care about the brutal murder of a nobody jazz musician. Everybody, that is, except for LASD Deputy Danny Upshaw.

Danny is a brilliant young detective with a secret he can't even admit to himself. He recognizes the murder as the work of a true madman and is instantly obsessed with finding the killer, but his investigation is hampered by the jurisdictional feuds between his department and the city cops.

Meanwhile LAPD Lieutenant Mal Considine is recruited to work on gathering evidence against Communists for a grand jury, and the job is just the thing he needs to boost his promising career and help him with some family issues. The downside is that he has to work with Buzz Meeks that he’s got an old grudge against. Meeks is an ex-cop who is equally comfortable paying a bribe or cracking a skull with his trusty night stick. He works as a fixer for Howard Hughes, and his cozy relationships with the crooks and film industry folks make him the perfect bag man and troubleshooter for the Red hunting enterprise. Eventually the two investigations intersect, and all three men have to deal with the consequences of who they are and what they’ve done.

This isn’t my favorite James Ellroy book, but it is a pivotal one in my own reading history because it’s the first one of his I read after finding a paperback copy at a library sale back before the world moved on so I credit it for turning me onto his work. It’s also a turning point for Ellroy because it’s where he created the template he’d follow for most of his later books. We’ve got an unholy trinity of three men capable of committing monstrous crimes in service of dubious causes to further their own ambitions and obsessions. Eventually circumstances will make them seek to atone for their misdeeds, but their attempts at redemption can be as destructive and blood soaked as the things they already regret. That three character structure and basic story arcs are pretty much the backbone of Ellroy’s career since this one.

Ellroy has a tendency to go long and let his plots wander in a hundred directions before gathering up the threads at the end. That gives his books a sprawling and epic feel, but it can also be frustrating and confusing as a reader if you’re trying to keep track of who did what and why. While I love the way that Ellroy mixes fact and fiction so that you feel like you’re reading the secret history that never made the newspapers it seems like he’s also trying to mimic the messiness of real events. It gives it some authenticity, but it sometimes feel like it’s clashing with attempts to fashion in into a coherent crime novel.

For me it’s always the characters that keep me coming back to Ellroy, and that’s the case here. There’s a mix of courage and cowardice in all of them, and Buzz remains one of my favorites as the guy who knows all the angles but in typical Ellroy fashion can’t resist doing something incredibly stupid. Danny Upshaw is also intriguing because he’s probably the closest Ellroy has come to having one of his leads be pure and uncorrupted, but even Danny isn’t above beating up a witness for information or committing a crime if it advances his cause.

While this doesn’t hit the highs of his best work it’s still a bold creation by a writer that shows the first use of all the elements he’d pull together to hit his peak.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
August 23, 2016
In the midst of the Red Scare, a violated corpse with its eyes gouged out is found and young deputy detective Danny Upshaw catches the case. Meanwhile, Mal Considine is put in charge of rooting out communists in the UAES. Attached to his team are Dudley Smith, a veteran cop with a mean streak a mile wide, and Buzz Meeks, the dirtiest cop in town and the man whom his first wife had an affair with while he was fighting Germans in WWII...

Here we are, the second book in James Ellroy's multi-volume tale of wholesome family togetherness, the LA Quartet. Sarcasm aside, this was one brutal book.

It's hard to sum up a book with this kind of scope. In some ways, this book is the rise and fall of Danny Upshaw, the rise and fall of Mal Considine, and the redemption of Buzz Meeks, three very driven men. Upshaw will do anything to forget about his dark secret, burning the candle at both ends on two cases. Mal Considine needs a big win on the communist front to get custody of his son from his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Buzz Meeks tries to do the right thing despite a lifetime of doing the wrong ones.

In some ways, this book reads like The Black Dahlia 2.0. Ellroy has a few more balls in the air and more damaged men to put through the meat grinder. I knew the communist plot would dovetail with the death of Marty Goines and the others but I had no idea how.

As with the previous book, the characters make this a powerful read. Upshaw, Considine, and Meeks were all realistic and believable characters, much more nuanced than most crime fiction leads. Watching them go to their fates was like watching a car flying through a red light at an intersection, holding your breath and hoping nothing catastrophic happens. Meeks, who I dismissed as a disposable dirtbag at the beginning of the tale, wound up being my favorite character.

The communist plot didn't do a whole lot for me but the serial killer thread was balls to the wall. As the mystery rocketed toward the finish line, things got pretty tense and I thought about hiding out somewhere to finish it unbeknownst to my coworkers.

Ellroy's writing, the bleak offspring of Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, makes 1950s Hollywood seem like a shit-smeared labyrinth built on lies and the bodies of the dead. Despair falls like rain and the case played demolition derby with the lives of everyone involved. By the end of the book, I felt like I spent a few days chained to a radiator and beaten with a pipe wrench.

While I feel spent after reading it, The Big Nowhere is one hell of great read, both as a thriller and as a work of literature. Five out of five stars.

After thought: In a parallel universe, I'm sure this is marketed as the inspiration behind season two of True Detective.
Profile Image for Jeff .
912 reviews708 followers
October 10, 2014
This isn’t your Grandpa’s noir.

James Ellroy is a man so ornery he threatened to strangle Kemper with his lower intestines. Ellroy transforms Noir the hard way:

He snuck up on it in a urine soaked alley outside a sleazy Sunset Strip dive, coldcocked it with a lead pipe, stuffed it in a trunk with rabid chinchillas, drove it to an abandoned warehouse somewhere in beautiful downtown Burbank, strung it up with chains, injected it with heroin, attached electrodes to its ears, jolted it with 1000 volts of juice, forced it to watch colorized reruns of Gilligan’s Island*, dismembered it with a cheese grater, fed it to feral kittens, took the remains, sailed out into international waters and used the rest as chum for deep sea fishing.

This is a cold man**.

The book is a spare and bleak examination of the dregs of the Los Angeles 5-0. You have the weeding out of Communists in the entertainment world colliding in a perfect storm with grisly homosexual murders. To say this book is charged with bleak visceral energy is an understatement; it was hard to read without taking breaks just to clear the empty pit of despair that started in my belly and threatened to envelop me.

The only other book by Ellroy I’ve read was White Jazz which was number 4 in this tetralogy. That book, which was deliberately written in (or edited down to) a clipped style, took care of a loose end from this book.

Recommended for those readers who have no faith in humanity and just want to take their car for a spin in the gutter. The gutter isn’t as smooth as the middle of the road, but in can be far more interesting.

*The one that doesn’t include all the names of the castaways in the theme song. Bastards!!

** If he has a kitty farm or plays shuffleboard with the elderly, I don't want to know about it.
Profile Image for Richard.
998 reviews382 followers
July 1, 2016
Communist witchhunts. B-movie studio westerns. South Central jazz. Hollywood labor union strikes. Mickey Cohen and his feud with Jack Dragna. Queer sex orgies at the Chateau Marmont. Howard Hughes and his penchant for underage girls and crashing airplanes. Friction between the LAPD and the LA County Sheriffs. The Sleepy Lagoon murder and the Zoot Suit Riots. And a sick serial killer that disembowels his homosexual victims by biting into them with animal teeth.

This loaded novel is about all that and more, and skillfully stuffed into a dense and thrilling 400+ pages! This book is really something special and James Ellroy is a writer with impressive skill and a great attention to detail. He mixes hard-boiled noir, a complex police procedural, and historical fiction into a stunning story, painting a vivid picture of Los Angeles in 1950, and mixing fictional characters with real life events the way Dennis Lehane does in The Given Day and HBO does with many of their shows, like Boardwalk Empire, Rome, and Deadwood.

With such complex and detailed plot lines as well as the book's colorful prose, characterization could have totally been left to the wayside. But Ellroy spends just as much time developing the entire cast of complex colorful characters, especially the three leads. The novel follows three law enforcement officers (an LA County Deputy Sheriff, a DA investigator, and a former crooked LAPD officer turned Howard Hughes pimp and bagman) as they get thrown into a grand jury probe against Communist influence in Hollywood as well as an investigation of a series of grisly serial murders. Each man has something to lose, something to hide, and in time, something to fight for. They're complex, you root for them at times and then despise them the next. And Ellroy expertly brings their separate stories together in a web of gripping mystery and tragedy.

I love my new home of Los Angeles and I have a fascination with old Tinseltown history and conspiracy, so one would wonder why I took so long to start reading James Ellroy novels. But no worries, with just this book, I'm now on the Ellroy train, and here for the long haul.
Profile Image for Aditya.
270 reviews83 followers
January 3, 2023
Let's get this out of the way The Big Nowhere is not for everyone. It is dark, brutal, ugly, repulsive, despicable and absolutely brilliant. One serial killer victim has a perforated cheek and his severed penis is inserted in it with the rest of it lolling out of his mouth. And it is not even the most brutal murder in the book yet this is in no way a torture porn. I hate authors who only have gratuitous violence going for them - John Connolly, Paolo Bagiculpi. It still might be too much for too many readers, hence I am sharing that particular visual before talking about anything else. This occasionally feels filthy specially the solution itself, so keep that in mind before you plunge into Ellroy's contorted creativity.

Ellroy debuts his signature structure - multiple protagonists supporting an intricate yet flawless plot. There is some staccato where sentences end in fragments but it is not yet challenging to follow. The stylistic choice is necessary, it is a 500 page book that feels longer in a good way, a lot is happening. It actually creates a crime novel that feels epic and sprawling in scope in a way almost nothing else in the genre does. It comes with an acceptable price of a cast of character so large that some backtracking is needed to keep track of it all (it really helps if you are reading an ebook with a search feature). It recreates 1950s LA in all its rotten splendor, the world bubbling with an authenticity and characters talking in period appropriate cop lingo that it can qualify as quality historical fiction.

The plots revolves around a gay serial killer and a politically motivated investigation into communist element in Hollywood. But there is a lot more happening - police politics specially clashes between the Sheriff and Police department, introduction of the best villain in crime fiction - the cult of personality Dudley Smith, gang rivalry between real life mob bosses Mickey Cohen and Jack Dragna. The characters are as good as the plot - complex, interesting and Ellroy is particularly excellent with character motivation.

Danny Upshaw is a maverick up and comer cop whose abrasive confidence hides his insecurities. He is obsessed with solving the brutal killings of gay men that the city wants to cover up, his price for continuing the investigation is going undercover to seduce a communist sympathizer except no one has any idea he is a closeted homosexual. Mal Considine, a politically ambitious cop is the closest thing the book has to a nice guy. He is a physical coward, better at administration than he is at investigation and has zero qualms about leading a witch-hunt against effete intellectuals and branding them as subversives. Tuner Meeks over the hill cop and mob fixer is the most traditional noir protagonist. He falls for the wrong woman and then develops a conscience.

The characters have distinct voices and obsessions. In fact in some respects, Ellroy's work feels like noir's version of Game of Thrones. More than the actual whodunnit, the real joy is in morally compromised but whip smart characters desperately playing off one another trying to get any last advantage they can. Though if you ever wonder how good the plot is check the initial introduction of the killer after his identity is revealed. See how obvious his initial scene plays in retrospect and how expertly Ellroy misguided his readers. This is a book that really got better with a reread, I felt having some knowledge about the impact of McCarthy's red scare greatly increased my enjoyment the second time around.

Some readers will struggle with the overall bleakness, others with an absence of an audience surrogate or a likeable character. I just call it crime fiction for hardcore crime fiction lovers. A crime epic in every sense of the term. Rating - 5/5

Quotes: screwed like a rabbit, but didn’t come off as a slut Reducing the femme fatale trope to its bare minimum

he'd gut-shot the man with his queerness One of the protagonists boast after blackmailing a gay man. As I said ugly, brutal but real and interesting
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
February 10, 2018
The focus of James Ellroy’s nasty tetralogy would seem to be the depravity of American life, his particular laser-focus on L. A. The first book was for him personal, connected to the death of his own mother, in his version of The Black Dahlia, set in the late forties. The second book, The Big Nowhere, happens in the early fifties focused on a series of murders of gay men in L. A. and the L. A. wing of the McCarthy trials that devastated Hollywood. Ellroy is, let’s say, a tad cynical about America. He might just have an opinion about what it might mean to Make America Great Again. (Hint: Great America Never Was). Or if, say, a discussion came up about whether we ought to return to the Cold War fifties, Ozzie and Harriet, sock hops, and so on, Elllroy might just punch you in the face over that one.

Make a guess whom Ellroy most admires:
a) cops
b) lawyers
c) criminals
d) Jews
e) Blacks
f) Hispanics
g) commies/pinkos
h) fascists
i) actors
j) politicians
k) women
l) men
m) gay
n) straight
o) killers of any of the above
p) Nobody, in principle (and almost everyone is a criminal, as he sees it)

Okay, maybe he likes some women, but he doesn’t necessarily “admire” any of them, though. Maybe we side a bit with the main male detective, Mel, but believe me, he’s no saint, either. He’s in a custody battle for his kid with the wife who dumped him, and she may have had reasons.

The title The Big Nowhere would seem to call attention to The Big Sleep, with less romantic pretensions. Like a step down in depravity from that world. This is a noir version of American history, reminding me a bit of Philip Roth’s also pretty dark American Trilogy, also with a historical focus (I Married a Communist goes over roughly the same territory). This is good, though you sort of need to take a shower afterwards. Brutal, graphic action, language, everything. Not a lot of poetry here, let’s say. Along the lines of the tone of the darkest noir, Jim Thompson stuff, but also reminds me a bit of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and plenty of works by Bukowski.

This might give you an idea of the loving Ellroy’s venom:

“Cliché shouters, sloganeers, fashion-conscious pseudoidealists. Locusts attacking social causes with the wrong information and bogus solutions, their one legit gripe--the Sleepy Lagoon case--almost blown through guilt by association: fellow travelers soliciting actual Party members for picketing and leaflet distribution, nearly discrediting everything the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee said and did. Hollywood writers and actors and hangers-on spouting cheap trauma, Pinko platitudes and guilt over raking in big money during the Depression, then penancing the bucks out to spurious leftist causes. People led to Lesnick's couch by their promiscuity and dipshit politics.”

I liked the more personal Black Dahlia better, but this is top notch, featuring the following memorable things: The HUAC McCarthy Red Scare “trials,” a series of gay murders, wolverines, Howard Hughes as pedophile, mobster Mickey Cohen, corrupt cops, strippers, prostitutes (are there any female accountants or biologists in Elroy?). Homophobia and Commie-fear-mongering are the central features here, and they are intertwined in the central brutal series of crimes. I’m exhausted from 16 hours of listening that is akin to being knocked around and beaten up. I will now read a series of bunny picture books as an antidote.
Profile Image for Paul Christensen.
Author 6 books132 followers
June 25, 2018
A nowhere horn from Squaresville,
Lefty cliche-drillers,
Commie women out for gelt,
Cops turned mob-paid killers.

A front-page perp,
A homo twerp,
A hophead
who’s dead.

Vengeful snitches,
Treasonous bitches,
Reds under queen-size beds.

Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,493 reviews2,374 followers
September 1, 2018
Ellroy has come up with a boldly ambitious and enthrallingly dark brooding crime novel that ticked all the boxes for me. The novel's first half interweaves two stories of lonely, driven lawmen investigating the crimes of social outcasts. In the county sheriff's office, Deputy Danny Upshaw finds that his probe of a series of homosexual murders is unleashing some frightening personal demons. Meanwhile, DA's investigator Mal Considine is assigned to infiltrate a cadre of Hollywood leftists, knowing that in the red-scare atmosphere, any hint of Communist conspiracy he uncovers will advance his career. Impressed by Upshaw's intensity, Considine decides to use him as a decoy to seduce a powerful woman, and the two cases collide, their implications of corruption, deceit and past violence converge explosively. At once taut and densely detailed, this is a mystery with the grim, inexorable pull of a film noir, shot through with a strictly modern dose of brutality, and a very sure sense of place and time.

Of all the 'L.A Quartet' this was my favourite, and actually happened to be the first Ellroy novel I experienced. It had everything I was looking for, a great set of characters, a complex plot that had many side stories, the mid-20th century L.A setting was used so authentically, with a wholly gripping and murky atmosphere. The last third I raced through to get to a climax that had me on tenderhooks!. Ellroy is such a great crime writer for the authenticity of this era, and there aren't many that can top him. Wish I could read again for the first time, as second time around just ain't gonna be as good.
Profile Image for kohey.
51 reviews195 followers
January 10, 2016
Here is a world where there just exists a category of being good or bad,you being on this side or that,with human nature,naked and lurking beneath,feeding on each other and bleeding you out.
“Stay true to yourself,goddamnit,but with dire consequences”seems more of an apt phrase than that corny “survival of the fittest”in Ellroy’s world.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,757 reviews131 followers
June 21, 2023
Ellroy takes us back to early 1950 L.A. here, about a year or so after the events in The Black Dahlia took place, but with largely a new cast of characters in this rather epic Noir. The story is narrated primarily from three POVs in the first person: Danny Upshaw, and up and coming police detective, with his first big case; Mal Considine, D.A brass, and finally; Buzz Meeks, bagman, pimp for Howard Hughes, and corrupt ex-cop. As seems typical for Ellroy, all three leads have skeletons galore in their closets and are motivated by noble and/or dubious reasons.

The context for most of the novel concerns the attempt to create a local HUAC by the 'jewboy' assistant D.A. Ellis Loew (introduced in The Black Dahlia). Why? One of the unions working the movie studios has a beef with their contract and the studios are dead set against higher wages and bennies and would rather bring the Teamsters to replace them (local crime boss/mob connections there). Yet, the existing union has a fairly bulletproof contract; if it can be proven that the 'brain trust' of the union has commies actively subverting the US, however, they can call the contract null and void.

Loew wants the local HUAC to succeed as it will help with his political ambitions and win some juice with the local mob and studio heads. He tags Mal Considine to be on the team; it may help him win custody of his child and help with his own political goals. Danny Upshaw is brought in as well; he is something like Considine's protégée and yeah, it will help him make rank as well. Danny is in two minds on this, however. He is the lead on a trail of stiffs that the police force does not really want to deal with as they seem to all be 'homos'; just like dead 'shines' and 'wetbacks' do not warrant much police time and effort...

The Big Nowhere is more ambitious than The Black Dahlia and Ellroy makes the reader work a little harder as well. Once again, the seedy underside of the City of Angels is highlighted, with corrupt cops, judges, organized crime, etc. Everyone knows the whole red scare shit is just that and the only reason it is being done is for political gain and greedy studios. Danny is almost single handedly trying to solve the murders with little to no cooperation as the other cops just do not care about dead 'twists'. The language and the bigoted attitudes expressed here will make even jaded 21st century readers squirm a bit.

The atmosphere is fantastic and Ellroy brings 1950 L.A. alive to be sure, but the first 2/3rds of this I found to be a bit of a slog. I also found the extended ending after the denouement a bit of a slog. While quite immersing, the very detail that makes is such does get a bit old as the story line dragged on. Still liked this a lot, but not enough for 4 stars.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
November 21, 2015
“It all came down to money - the great equalizer and common denominator.”
― James Ellroy, The Big Nowhere


Probably 4.5 stars. I'm leaving room, saving stars, minding the gap, because I KNOW this isn't Elroy's best. Still, it is a novel that if written by any other living crime writer it might be considered their masterpiece and this is only 2nd shelf Ellroy. Chew on that. This is the 2nd book in Ellroy's LA Quartet Series (Starts with The Black Dahlia and includes this, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz). It really has all you want out of LA Noir. Hollywood, homosexuals, drugs, jazz, sex, the Mob, crooked cops, etc. The plot is near perfect and the characters are BETTER than the plot, in my book,

James Ellroy does for crime thrillers what John le Carré does for spy thrillers. They both have made their own dark corner of genre fiction literary. Both will be read in 400 years as future academics and fans try to tease out how exactly how fucked-up the 20th century really was.
Profile Image for Brandon.
914 reviews235 followers
March 4, 2014
A body is found near a local swimming hole and the brutality of the murder is frightening. Deputy Danny Upshaw is charged with finding the perp and closing the case. When it’s discovered the victim was gay, Ellroy brings the reader into the homophobic culture of 1950s Los Angeles while pushing Upshaw to his limit in his drive to tag the guilty party.

Elsewhere, both Mal Considine and Buzz Meeks become entwined in the communist red scare. Mal is using it to his advantage in an attempt to advance his fledgling career while Buzz Meeks is shaking down unions accused of spreading red propaganda.

It isn’t long until all three men are frying together in the same pan.

With The Big Nowhere, Ellroy was cooking with all the same ingredients used in The Black Dahlia: the seedy crime culture of 1950s L.A., snappy hard boiled dialogue, and compelling characters. So what was missing? It took me a while to pin it down but I think it eventually boils down to the narrative style. For whatever reason, I seem to prefer my crime fiction told in a first person narrative style. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad but I like to really get inside the head of the protagonist and uncover the case with him/her. I’m not saying that if a crime fiction author chooses the third person style he/she fails immediately; I just find it difficult to become fully immersed in the presented case.

Why does it matter so much with this novel? I think it suffers due to my own comparisons with Dahlia and just how much I enjoyed that experience. That being said, The Big Nowhere is itself a compelling story that has everything you could want in a dark, gritty gangland tale. While in my opinion it falls short of the tremendous Black Dahlia, it shares a similar tone and fans of the first novel in the L.A Quartet series should find some enjoyment in its followup.

Also posted @ Every Read Thing
Profile Image for Eirini Proikaki.
339 reviews113 followers
June 30, 2019
Αυτό το βιβλίο μου έβγαλε το λάδι.Πολλοί χαρακτήρες,πολλά γεγονότα,παλιές ιστορίες,καινούριες ιστορίες,κυνήγι κομμουνιστών,φρικιαστικοί φόνοι ομοφυλόφιλων,μπάτσοι,εγκληματίες,εγκληματίες-μπάτσοι,όλα τόσο μπλεγμένα που ζαλίστηκα,κόντεψα να τρελαθώ!Και μετά σιγά σιγά αρχίζει να ξεμπλέκεται το κουβάρι και είπα "μα τι έγραψε ο άνθρωπος!".Φοβερό βιβλίο!

Μου άρεσαν οι χαρακτήρες που όλοι είχαν τα κουσούρια τους(Μπαζ είσαι ο αγαπημένος μου),μου άρεσε ο τρόπος που μπλέκονται στην ιστορία αληθινά γεγονότα και πρόσωπα και παραδόξως μου άρεσε που ολόκληρο το βιβλίο κυλιέται στον βούρκο.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,938 reviews748 followers
September 21, 2020
Thanks to Ellroy, I was awake long after I'd finished this novel because it was so disturbing on many levels. With two books left to read in the LA Quartet, after finishing The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere I had to take a break. They're excellent novels, but even I, someone who lives on a steady reading diet of bleak, had to take a break before going on. I didn't stay away for too long though -- these novels are like serious noir-reading crack.

Full post here:

Once again Ellroy brings us into an LA that is based on a foundation of fact, allowing him to construct his fiction around reality. It's genius, really, when you think about it. But in trying to describe this book or the others, the truth is as Tom Nolan says in his introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of The LA Quartet, "Thumbnail sketches do not suffice" (xii). With The Big Nowhere there is no possible way to encapsulate Ellroy's characterizations, for example, or the movement toward the intersection of the lives of the three main players who all have their own their personal demons to confront while all the while having to contend with forces from the outside. Without giving anything away, it's so hard not to feel some measure of sympathy for each and everyone of the these three people, despite what they've done. It is a book that you feel rather than simply read, and it's visceral.

The Big Nowhere is not perfect, but it is a hell of a ride. Definitely not for the faint of heart. It is not a book I'd choose as an initial leap into noir; it's bleaker than bleak, twisted, unbelievably intense and difficult to read, but I have nothing but serious praise for this novel.

I have to add that Dudley Smith is one of the most despicable characters in American literature.
Profile Image for Steve.
962 reviews95 followers
February 27, 2015
Los Angeles, 1950 Red crosscurrents: the Commie Scare and a string of brutal mutilation killings. Gangland intrigue and Hollywood sleaze. Three cops caught in a hellish web of ambition, perversion, and deceit. Danny Upshaw is a Sheriff's deputy stuck with a bunch of snuffs nobody cares about; they're his chance to make his name as a cop... and to sate his darkest curiosities. Mal Considine is D.A.'s Bureau brass. He's climbing on the Red Scare bandwagon to advance his career and to gain custody of his adopted son, a child he saved from the horror of postwar Europe. Buzz Meeks-bagman, ex-Narco goon, and pimp for Howard Hughes-is fighting communism for the money. All three men have purchased tickets to a nightmare.

This was a grand novel of twists and turns, double-crosses and blackmail, and political intrigue all tied together by the master of noir, James Ellroy. It doesn't get any better than this, people!

One thing I found interesting was Buzz Meeks' back story. While I haven't read LA Confidential (it's up next), his character was something of a mystery to me in the movie. This cleared up some of the background between him and Capt Dudley Smith.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews337 followers
November 30, 2017
DNF - only got halfway

A perfect title "The Big Nothing, Nowhere, Nada"

Incredibly long-winded and dull, often repetitive, far too many name-drop-then-forget characters, precious few action scenes, even fewer scenes that advance the plot more than an inch.

Only Danny and Claire are sympathetic, and then only intermittently.

See notes below....
Profile Image for Vaios Pap.
95 reviews12 followers
December 26, 2019
Αγγίζει την ψυχή σου, σε σαγηνεύει, σε καταστρέφει! Το Μεγάλο Πουθενά σε βυθίζει σ' έναν αληθινό εφιάλτη που θα είχες ευχηθεί να μη ζήσεις ποτέ. Το καλύτερο αστυνομικό έργο όλων των εποχών.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,510 reviews855 followers
April 13, 2017
Wow. This was a powerful book. Dirty politics, policemen, corruption, sleaze, kickbacks and gangsters. Jazz cubs, heroine, pimps and hookers, hitmen. Set amongst the hunt for Red Communists, labour disputes and a series of sex crimes in Los Angeles, Hollywood.
What really made this book for me was the characters- Danny Upshaw, Mal Considine and Buzz Meeks - each with their own demons and motivations- all brilliantly delivered by Ellroy. There is a reaching for redemption too, but whether this is achieved is anyone's guess.
This book had all the feels. It made me feel sad, enraged, indignant and shocked.
This book was about the big grey area between the black and white. Everyone has a price, everyone is compromised. This is the noir-ist noir I've read so far.
And it's easy to read this and think 'well that was corruption THEN, nowadays things are SO different....but maybe they aren't, not really, maybe the players have just changed....paranoia setting in.
This is not a happy book. It is not a wonderful book: the contents are too grim for that. But it packs an awfully powerful punch and evokes an era in all its not so glorious colours.
Profile Image for Andy.
Author 14 books139 followers
August 21, 2008
The best Ellroy book, hands down. Better than "Black Dahlia". Picture a fun house-mirrored Hollywood where a psycho killer tears his victims apart wearing dentures made of wolverine fangs, a closet queen vice cop investigating Communist sympathizer movie stars, and a cop who wants to smuggle his kid through Iron Curtain-era Europe during the Redder than Red Communist 1950's. The roller coaster ride of the Big Nowhere lasts for 400+ pages and has no brakes, so hold on tight!
Profile Image for Cathal Kenneally.
405 reviews9 followers
January 25, 2019
1950’s America has two or three enemies. If you were a Communist or homosexual in these days you would not be popular. Someone is visiting gay bars , picking up men and viscously murdering them. The killings are brutal and baffling the LAPD.
Profile Image for Geza Tatrallyay.
Author 17 books284 followers
November 21, 2016
While this is an okay detective yarn, I found the plethora of characters overwhelming and the language dated and very macho, and in today's terms, rather lacking political correctness. There is just too much going on in the book and the somewhat dated language and expressions makes you less keen on reading further.
Profile Image for Layton.
136 reviews42 followers
February 3, 2019
I have to talk about this book. I just finished it less than five minutes ago and the gears in my mind are still spinning along at full tilt trying to comprehend how goddamn good this book was. How densely plotted it is. How this crime novel managed to make me cry not once, not twice, not three times, BUT FOUR FUCKING TIMES.

Let me make a list of things I want you to know about this book, if you haven’t read it:

1. This book hurts you. Good people lose. Good people die. You will ugly weep.

2. This is a great crime novel. One of THE greats.

3. Mal Considine, Danny Upshaw, and Buzz Meeks are three characters I will never forget.

4. Dudley Smith is the first fictional character I have ever wanted to bump off. I have to finish this series just to see this no-good, lowdown SOB get his comeuppance.

5. Buzz Meeks is my favorite hero I have ever encountered in a book. He is so pure and so real, it is difficult to reconcile that he is a fictional character.
He is my hero, and I love him.

This book has it all. Crime, a terrifying serial killer on the rampage, corruption, real fuckin’ evil bad guys, and morally complicated yet intrinsically virtuous good guys.

Go pick up this book. Thank me later.
Profile Image for Toby.
836 reviews331 followers
July 3, 2015
Early Ellroy, prior to his discovery of removing every unnecessary word as his successful writing style, moves slow and feels bloated. An interesting little tale that suffers in comparison to what would come next but is still dark and brutal and typical of his worldview. I really just wanted it to be over asap however.
Profile Image for Sandra.
923 reviews265 followers
June 14, 2015
C’è tanto di tutto nei romanzi di Ellroy, ed in questo in particolare: tanta tensione razziale, linfa nel sangue americano soprattutto di una L.A. vicinissima al confine messicano; c’è tanta ossessione sessuale, omo ed etero, da arrivare a pervertiti di ogni genere, ad incesti e psicosi oltre ogni fantasia di un lettore “normale”; c’è tanta criminalità, dal tossicodipendente dedito ai furti al pervertito omicida all’uomo di fiducia del gangster ai killer prezzolati fino al macrocriminale usuraio spacciatore ebreo; ci sono omicidi di strada la cui descrizione a sangue caldo, con la scrittura telegrafica di Ellroy, fa drizzare i capelli per l’orrore; c’è corruzione, tanta e ovunque, ad ogni livello, senza che si possa più distinguere tra corrotti e corruttori, tra vittime e carnefici. Un ritmo sincopato, adrenalina che ti scorre nelle vene, occhi attaccati alla pagina. E’ lui, “il randagio dannato della letteratura americana”. E non ce n’è per nessuno.
Profile Image for Tim.
477 reviews660 followers
August 12, 2018
The 1940s are over, and the second half of the century starts with a bang. Deputy Danny Upshaw starts his new year investigating a gruesome homicide of a jazz player, which is only the start of a series of murders. Meanwhile Mal Considine is working with the D.A. climbing aboard the Red Scare bandwagon, and trying to find some friendly witnesses for a small time recreation of the House of Un-American Activities’ big show. We also have Buzz Meeks, a former cop, now bagman and pimp for Howard Hughes (Yes, THE Howard Hughes) who’s going to be getting involved in both Considine and Upshaw’s cases, and really Meeks is noticing the odds are decidedly not in his favor.

The second book in Ellroy’s LA Quintet is more ambitious than The Black Dahlia, it’s bigger in scope giving us more “secret history” of LA, while also losing the first-person narration of the previous book and alternating between the three above characters. The three characters, all from different backgrounds and working different angles, gives us a broader sense of the world and the corruption in it.

It’s so delightfully ambitious that I’m sad to say I was disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid book and I don’t consider 3 stars to be a negative score. In fact I often recommend 3 star books if I think it may click better with my friends, as that score typically means I enjoyed it, it just didn’t stun me. Based on a plot description, I honestly thought I would like this one better than the first book as I find the HUAC to be a fascinating piece of American history… and somehow despite it being one of the main plot points and taking up a good portion of the book, it really feels like Ellroy didn’t care about that angle much. It’s important, but played off as uninteresting (admittedly, most of the people involved in it look at it only as a way to gain a promotion, so it’s not exactly as if the characters are that passionate about their task either).

The book is 406 pages, and I found a good bit of it dull. It takes a fairly decent amount of that time setting up everything, and over describing things. Yes, I say this knowing full well that Ellroy changes his writing style in the next book, taking a much more… succinct style to his prose, which frankly I think will work much better as there were moments in this one where I just wanted him to get on with it. I don’t want to turn this into a series of complaints, but frankly until around page 319 I just kept waiting for something interesting to happen.

A damn shame really, as when that something happens, it happens on a grand scale. A plot twist I didn’t expect sucker punched this reader and then the story went to some amazing places. It elevated what came before as pieces began to click into place. This one had an excellent ending that it almost raised the score up to a 4 for me, but those earlier sections were such a drag that I’m going to resist that urge.

Now away from the negative and on to the positive. Other than that stunning twist and the damn near perfect ending, I want to highlight two other things that this book does stunningly well.

First off, I love that we are getting more outlooks on the world Ellroy is creating. In many ways, other than a few brief mentions to the case and a few returning characters, this book and The Black Dahlia could be viewed as pretty much unrelated and not really that connected…. But from a stylistic standpoint they are perfectly matched. Not only do both books involve real life cases given a fictional re-examination, but both show time passing in LA; we see Hollywood evolve and we see the corruption in the ranks (from the standpoint of politics, the police and business) growing with it. We watch as Ellroy shows us history unfolding, and the good and bad that comes with the changing of the times.

The other thing it does well is Dudley Smith. Dudley. Goddamn. Smith. Smith is without a doubt the most interesting character that Ellroy has created (note, I did not say likeable or relatable). For most of the book Smith is a wild-card, you don’t know quite what he is after or what game he’s playing (let alone what the rules are to his little game), and by the end of this one we know more but not enough. He is a fascinating character who steals every scene he’s in… and I very much want to know what happens to him as the series moves along.

In closing: this is a solid novel. I can even see where some may like this one better than the first. Personally it just didn’t click with me the way the Dahlia case did. The Big Nowhere has a great cast of characters and so many plotlines that SHOULD have interested me more, but often left me cold. It’s worth a read, and sets up for the next book wonderfully, but I’m glad this wasn’t my first Ellroy novel, as I would have wondered what the fuss was all about.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews985 followers
March 3, 2020
My first ever Ellroy - a pretty good 1950s LA crime saga involving a vicious serial killer of gay men, a corrupt police force and the mob. A no holds barred look at the darkside post war Los Angeles from the intolerant language, the communist with hunts, the war against organised labour and more. Ellroy doesn't really leave any community unscathed, although the sense of mocking of the red-baiting at this time feel like where his heart was. 7 out of 12.
Profile Image for Richard.
452 reviews108 followers
May 30, 2018

I love this time period and I love crime novels but this was a struggle. It felt bloated and I lost focus between the different characters and their narratives. It had some good parts and I enjoyed moments throughout it but not enough to relish reading it on an evening, hence the slow reading time.

This is my second Ellroy novel and he has a style, I’m just not sure if that style is for me. Maybe I prefer simplistic thrillers as I know a number of people on here hold Ellroy in high regard but the pacing was an issue and because of that my mind wandered. Luckily for me the next book of his I’ve got lined up is L.A. Confidential and I’ve seen the movie a few times and really enjoyed that. If the book doesn’t work for me then I’ll have to call it quits.
Profile Image for Lance Carney.
Author 13 books159 followers
October 19, 2019
The second of the L.A. Quartet, I read it on my second trip to visit my daughter in Los Angeles. (I read #1 on my first trip to L.A.--I'm weird that way.) While I didn't like it as much as Black Dahlia, I did enjoy this foray into 1950s L.A., communist witch hunts (take 2) and murder. It is every bit as gritty as Black Dahlia and I have to admit, it was pretty cool on the night after visiting Griffith Observatory as a tourist, reading in the book about two bodies being found on the hiking paths of the very same.
Profile Image for Ned.
302 reviews128 followers
March 21, 2020
I really wanted to like this second book of a trilogy after greatly enjoying The Black Dahlia. What I did like is the history of 1950, where the lingering red scare was very active in L.A. and especially in Hollywood. I'll likely still read the last in this series (LA Confidential), of which I've seen the movie (over the top but interesting). Back to this one: The plot was excellent, the characters well placed, albeit one-dimensional and Ellroy fails ultimately to make the credible. Overall he strains credibility, I just don't think these people exist (Chandler has his archetypes, but he is far more deft). What I also liked about this one is the wolverine animal information, I learned about that. And this book is full of cop talk and describes perfectly the interplay amongst the various arms of its criminal justice divisions (as well as the city vs county vs state competitions). The law enforcement corruption & connections to the syndicate are well fleshed. I know this man can write, and very well, he just needs to settle and get sober (pure speculation, I've read zilch about the actual man).

But, the 2 stars: This is NOT a well written book, it repeats itself, it is crammed with every crazy thought that enters that mind of the many characters, often in incomplete sentences. It is almost as if the author himself wrote this is in a massive speed-induced frenzy, alternating or along with gallons of booze. I sense the characters are somewhat like the author, and that is frightening indeed. The use of acronyms and cop lingo, and assumptions that the reader can remember what they are are, was excessive and distracting. Overall, I wanted this to be over, it just went on and on in a stream of insane consciousness. Oh, and then he kills all the likable characters - not at sin for me at all, but the payoff of insight and any sense of moral closure was absent. It is just unrelentingly and darkly chaotic, without any moral lesson for the reader to glean. I just don't think the world works that way, so it strained credibility and gave little pleasure.

Even the picture of the author at the back has him in a strange wolverine animalistic like crouch and bearing a disturbing hitleresque mustache.

A couple of quotes, to give the man a trifle of due: Page 54, "He was a small, frail old man with bright blue eyes and a cough that he kept feeding with harsh European cigarettes; he had the look native to stool pigeons everywhere- loathing for the presence of his captors - even though he had allegedly volunteered his services."

page 205, the irish cop shakedown trying to extract dirt from a reluctant snitch: "Mal tried to look back, but couldn't make himself; he fixed on Das Kapital....Quiet sank in behind him; heavy fingers tapped the table....'He cheats on his income taxes'.... Dudley ha! ha! ha!'d. 'So do I, so does my friend Malcolm and so would our grand savior Jesus Christ should he return and settle in America. You know more than you are willing to tell us, so please rectify that situation before I lose my temper and revoke your friendly witness status.'"

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