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The Big Nowhere

(L.A. Quartet #2)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  16,122 ratings  ·  538 reviews
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 maelstrom of violence and deceit when their lives become inextricably linked as each one confronts his own personal darkness. Told with Ellroy's characteristically forceful and relen ...more
Paperback, 472 pages
Published 1994 by Random House (first published September 1st 1988)
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Benjamin Dueholm I would say no. There are a few references to the Dahlia case in the book but there's no overlap with the plot and only one not-very-central character…moreI would say no. There are a few references to the Dahlia case in the book but there's no overlap with the plot and only one not-very-central character in both.(less)

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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
"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 o
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 o
Dan Schwent
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 t
Paul Bryant

Nasty cops
Nasty communists aka red scum
Nasty gay men aka queers, faggots, etc
Nasty black people aka spooks, smokes, etc
Nasty women
Nasty mobsters
Nasty Jews who are also often nasty commies and faggots
Nasty Mexicans
Nasty wives
Nasty smackheads
Nasty sex
Nasty language
Nasty lives
Oh and also nasty dogs
If you can’t take the special oxyacetylene James Ellroy heat you better get out of the James Ellroy kitchen of hell so that’s what I’m doing, skedaddling back to wimpsville to bathe my throbbing brow and
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Paul Christensen
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-and-sagas
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.

Dave Schaafsma
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 Americ ...more
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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 ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: james-ellroy
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.
Steven Godin
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 ...more
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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 Whi
Feb 20, 2014 rated it liked it
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 h
Nancy Oakes
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:
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 ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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....
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: noir, favorites
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
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: mondo hollywood wolves
Shelves: hardboiled-dicks
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! ...more
Cathal Kenneally
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.
Geza Tatrallyay
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it
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. ...more
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
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: black-as-night
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.
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 Hugh ...more
S.P. Aruna
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The plot is about three characters; L.A. Deputy Sheriff Danny Upshaw is trying to capture a brutal sex murderer whilst participating, somewhat reluctantly, in a scheme to expose communists in Hollywood. Turner "Buzz" Meeks, a disgraced former cop, is now working for millionaire Howard Hughes and gangster Mickey Cohen. LAPD lieutenant Malcolm "Mal" Considine, involved in a bitter child custody case, tries with varying success to do the right things in an environment of deception, paranoia and bru ...more

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 bu
Lance Carney
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 s ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Book two in the L. A. Quartet, ‘The Big Nowhere’ by James Ellroy, is a dark nightmarish noir mystery. It can be read as a standalone. Ellroy writes in chopped up sentences, which mostly describe horrific police and underworld corruption and sadism in short sentences and word semaphores. I was reminded of the movie Apocalypse Now.

The novel is about the L.A. law enforcement agencies of the 1950’s. Top brass in the county sheriff’s and City police departments are mostly
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This dark, mean, nasty-hearted book had me forgetting to sleep, nearly getting in trouble for forgetting to come back from lunch hour, etc. Definitely this quartet is the best hard-boiled stuff I know since the Chandler/Hammett/Cain era. But it's also doing something different from those guys, something post-Chinatown: all the narrative balls flying in the air are a way of trying to give you this ultra-broad, kaleidoscopic perspective on the deep and ugly things that are creating '50s Los Angele ...more
Ben Loory
i'm more interested in psychopaths than communists, so the more historical-sociological parts of this 500-page book kinda bored me. i can see how people might see this as ellroy moving into more "important" areas of interest, but as far as i can tell it's all just a bunch of window-dressing for the wolverine-obsessed psychopath angle anyway; it's not like the book sheds any light on politics or economics or anything like that (or even tries to). the world is a shitty place and people do their be ...more
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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 ...more

Other books in the series

L.A. Quartet (4 books)
  • The Black Dahlia (L.A. Quartet, #1)
  • L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet, #3)
  • White Jazz (L.A. Quartet, #4)

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