James Ellroy – The Big Nowhere (1988)

Second in the LA Quartet, The Big Nowhere moves on from The Black Dahlia by having a political/historical subject – or rather two: the anti-Communist purges of the late 40’s/early 50’s and the treatment of gay men at the time (and the underworld in which they moved). We have – as In Blood’s A Rover – three central characters who are  linked together – Danny Upshaw, Mal Considine and Buzz Meeks; all three have their own stories, narratives and trajectories and all three achieve a certain redemption and transcendence (the first two end up dead and third probably so also). A lurking, menacing and terrifying presence is one of Ellroy’s most horrible creations the violent sadist who is policeman Dudley Smith.

As with The Black Dahlia the peg on which much of the narrative is hung is a brutal and perverted killing but in this case of a ‘low-life’ drifter so that the case attracts very little media attention. In fact this plot, while again splendidly baroque (and indeed Oedipal), is not as good as that of the Dahlia partly because the other plot-lines distract from it more. But this matters little because Ellroy’s ability with plot means that he is able to tie back his central themes into the case and interweave these themes, the three characters and the investigation into a masterful dance.

Again the prose, while certainly striking and compelling, has not yet reached the free-form individuality which it will later attain. The Big Nowhere is an advance from The Black Dahlia but is more in the nature of a testing, an exploration, than a giant step forward. Once again however this is a wonderful mystery which shows Ellroy’s mastery of the genre.