Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Big Nowhere by, James Ellroy


Book 2 in James Ellroy's LA Quartet series (LA Confidential is #3). Since I didn't do a full review of LA Confidential, I'll have to do part of it here. LA was a great book. There is a lot more to the story (and a lot more twists and turns) than the movie. My one complaint about it was that about halfway through the book, there was a distinct style shift. Ellroy's prose became more stark and staccato. It was almost like he stripped out all adjectives and any non-essential nouns. Like an MTV video where scenes and images keep flashing at you. It's a bit disorienting, but I got used to it. I've heard book 4 (White Jazz) is like that all the way through (which may be why I'm reluctant to pick it up). The Big Nowhere, however, has a constant flow like most novels you read.

Like its follow-up LA Confidential, TBN is the story of three LA cops who end up in a labyrinthine series of connected cases. The stories weave together involving the three big stories in the 1950's City of Angels: labor unions, Communists, and Hollywood. Each man has his own strengths and is deeply flawed in his own way. Ellroy likes to torture his protagonists both emotionally and physically (at least one dies in both novels). Several characters appear in both novels, including Dudley Smith also appears in the all four novels. Ellroy pays homage to the old hardboiled detective story with a twist. The language (from cursing, racial slurs, and sex) to the violence (most off-screen, but we see all the gory results) are distinctly modern. Even the master of sex and violence Mickey Spillane was never as explicit in his descriptions as Ellroy is describing the crimes committed by the perpetrators.

An entertaining read by the modern master of crime fiction. I'll pick up the first book in the LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia) next. Maybe then I'll have the courage to read White Jazz.

Update (11/29/11): In the six (!!) years since I wrote this review, I've read both Dahlia and White Jazz. I didn't have as much trouble with Ellroy's style as young me had feared.  Once you match the rhythm of the words with the rhythm in your head, Ellroy's style is a big part of what makes the books.  He's a profane, perverted beat poet, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  Looking back, I think The Big Nowhere is my favorite of the Quartet.  I picked up American Tabloid at a closing Borders, so I'll have some more Ellroy coming my way before too long.

Posted on the old blog 3/12/2005.

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