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The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
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's review
Jul 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: favorites

** spoiler alert ** I don't think I knew quite what to say after reading this book. I read it about a month ago, and it's only now that I feel qualified to discuss it. It's such a complex web and it takes some parsing. It's not quite as labyrinthine as L.A. Confidential, but it's sufficiently complex that you need to take your time.

Ellroy's characters are always the best part of any of his book, and this is no exception. All three main characters - Mal Considine, Buzz Meeks, and the brilliant Danny Upshaw - are bastards. But they're the driven, obsessed kind of bastard that you encounter in all Ellroy's works, and you're entirely capable of liking any or all of them. Considine beats his wife - but will do absolutely anything to give his adopted son a good life. Meeks is a drunk and a bagman, running skeevy deals for Howard Hughes - but falls in love with a strong, smart woman and damn near gives up anything for love. And Upshaw, poor Upshaw, is a strikingly driven cop reminiscent of Ed Exley - except between his secrets and his conscience, Upshaw does things both good and bad that I don't think Exley would even contemplate. The twists and turns are both sympathetic and cynical; in one breath Ellroy lets the world eat a good man and laments his loss.

This book reads like a dry run for LAC - but it's vivid and engrossing enough to be amazing on its own. It's also the first time you see Ellroy's favorite villain, Sgt-at-the-time Dudley Smith. There is nothing sacred in The Big Nowhere, and that's the way an Ellroy book should be.

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