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The Big Nowhere Paperback – May 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Returning to Los Angeles a few years after World War II (the setting of his last novel, The Black Dahlia ), Ellroy has come up with an ambitious, enthralling melodrama painted on a broad, dark canvas. 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 nicknamed the "Red Queen," and the two cases and 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 extreme (though not gratuitous) brutality and a very sure sense of history and characterization.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press; Reissue edition (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446674370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446674379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He is the author of the acclaimed L.A. Qurtet - The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz, as well as the Underworld USA trilogy: American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover. He is the author of one work of non-fiction, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 72 people found the following review helpful By floydslip on July 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
James Ellroy's so-called "L.A. Quartet" (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) is one of the seminal bodies of work in American crime fiction. I have chosen to include a review under "The Big Nowhere" not because I feel it is the best book of the four (L.A. Confidential has a broader scope, takes greater risks, and is more compelling); simply, none of the other books moves me as much as this one does.

Danny Upshaw, Mal Considine, and Buzz Meeks are among the most vividly-drawn and complex characters ever found in a crime novel. Despite the glaring character flaws in each one of them, some of which border on repugnance, I still manage to empathize with them completely. Ellroy is an absolute master when it comes to tying characters' actions to their various motivations and desires. This gives his works a depth that goes beyond the mere telling of a story. The ways in which Upshaw, Considine, and Meeks relate to the action--the ways in which they internalize it and bend it to their own specific set of needs--force the reader to take a personal interest in them. They are no longer merely the vehicle to draw the reader into the action, as most "detective" characters are in this genre; instead, each one provides a distinct point of view of the action, shaping it as much as they are shaped by it. Not since Philip Marlowe went to jail for Terry Lennox--and Marlowe's own ideals--has a crime novel so tightly woven plot with character.

The story itself is too complicated to do justice in a brief review so I won't even try. The sheer number of subplots and ancillary characters could fill out the entire oeuvre of lesser writers, but Ellroy seamlessly integrates it all into a story that will have you playing the angles long after the book is finished.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Stephen McLeod on September 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
'The Big Nowhere' is my personal favorite Ellroy novel. As in the epic 'L.A. Confidential', the book's tortuous plotlines follow three cops tortured by their obsessions, converging in a dark night of the soul like no other in American literature.

The miracle of this book is that it is an intensely moral drama. Danny Upshaw is one of the most tragic and driven characters in modern literature. But not even Danny is as ironically fascinating as Buzz Meeks. Buzz is as corrupt as they come, but there is a glimmer of goodness in him that brightens to a terrible fire. His fate lies just around the corner in the prologue to 'L.A. Confidential.' Mal Considine's obsessions were born in the liberation of the death camps after the war, and he is indelibly marked by the horror. His one grasp at goodness is something (someone) that is always just beyond his reach.

I won't give anything up. The action is a series of plots centered around each of these three men. The plots converge into an unspeakable horror. But the horror of wanton crime is only a reflection of the horror within the darkest reaches of the soul. in 'The Big Nowhere', Ellroy does what Auden prescribed in his great poem "September 1, 1939:" in the depths of the darkness, and without sentimentality or pity, he nonetheless "shows an affirming flame."
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T.P.Roddy on February 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
I was debating whether to give this book four or five stars. The only reason being is that the story is pretty complex, a lot more so than The Black Dahlia, but if your the type of reader who can plow through a book in one or two sittings (which I am not) then I'm sure it'll be easier to keep all the charcters and the information fresh in your mind. Although I did have to do a lot of back tracking here and there to feel caught up with all the names and references, I gave it the 'five star benifit of the doubt' because 'what a story' it is! Plus, there is a fine summation of everything and everybody at the very end. I loved 'The Black Dahlia' and this book too and Ellroy certainly kicked it up a notch here. I enjoyed the movie L.A. Confidential and will read it next and I heard DePalma's doing a 'Black Dahlia' movie, but to put 'The Big Nowhere' to film would be very challenging: Communism, the mob, teamsters, the LAPD, the morgue, a pin-up, a pimp, prostitutes and a plastic surgeon, a shrink, crooked cops, taxidermists, nasty four legged creatures, heroin, a homicidal maniac and Howard Hughes. A word of advice, DO NOT read to far into the review pages here because someone gives away a major part of the story in their review. I wish someone idiot-proofed the reviews at Amazon to stop one like that from ruining the story for others. But even though I found out the fate of a certain character, I still was surprised and enjoyed this book entirely.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By saliero on September 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
What a roller coaster ride!
Getting into the rhythm is a bit like watching a production of Shakespeare - you have to get your ear attuned to the language, but once you achieve that, you are off and away and able to immerse yourself wholly in the experience. It takes a while to sort out the parallel plot lines and keep the characters in an orderly arrangement in your head. I even went back and re-read the first 3 chapters after about ten, and re-established them for myself (after that it was all quite clear).
I suspect this is a matter of coming to terms with Ellroy's style - once mastered it's not such a big deal. For that reason, LA Confidential, the next book, didn't leave me quite so breathless, but I suspect it may have done if it has been my starting point.
Ellroy's setting may be 1950s Los Angeles, and homage may being paid to the noir detectives of earlier eras, but his writing - both language and themes - is graphically contemporary. It has as much to tell us about current values as anything, as well as exposing the corruption and nastiness of a previous era. As someone brought up on a diet rich in the Hollywood dream factory (Dragnet, Perry Mason, and family sitcoms depicting the 'sunny' side of urban America where cops were your friend, and the ranch house in the suburbs an unassailable good) I love this exposition of the seemier side of life - which as contemporary events - eg the Rodney King bashing - show us are no less real.
The story was of personal interest to me - the Grand Jury investigations into unions and Hollywood. The hard-bitten cynicism of several of the bad-guy heroes adds edge and bite to the historical facts.
Straight after closing the covers on The Big Nowhere, I started LA Confidential, the next in the LA Quartet. I liked it just as much.
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