The Big Nowhere
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Jacket design by Barbara Buck|
Jacket illustration by Stephen Peringer
|Genre||Crime fiction, noir, historical fiction|
|Publisher||The Mysterious Press|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & paperback) and audio cassette|
|Pages||406 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|ISBN||0-89296-283-6 (first edition, hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3555.L6274 B5 1988|
|Preceded by||The Black Dahlia (1987)|
|Followed by||L.A. Confidential (1990)|
The Big Nowhere is a 1988 crime fiction novel by James Ellroy, the second of the L.A. Quartet, a series of novels set in 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles. James Ellroy dedicated The Big Nowhere "To Glenda Revelle". The epigraph for The Big Nowhere is a passage from a novel; "It was written that I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness".
The plot is about three characters; L.A. Deputy Sheriff Danny Upshaw investigates a brutal sex murder which becomes a string of killings, working outside the law in his efforts to catch him. Turner "Buzz" Meeks, a disgraced former cop, now works for millionaire Howard Hughes and gangster Mickey Cohen as a fixer, and begins a dangerous affair with Cohen's mistress Audrey Anders. 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 brutality. The three men gradually become part of a task force investigating Communism in Hollywood. The story takes place in the aftermath of the notorious Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the resultant Zoot Suit Riots.
Over the course of the novel, Danny Upshaw becomes increasingly obsessed with the murder case - characterized by violent and sexual mutilations of male victims' corpses post-mortem - and begins to confront his own latent homosexuality in the process. He closes in on the killer, as the murders begin to connect to the UAES, the leftist Hollywood organization being investigated, particularly an actor named Reynolds Loftis, who matches the description of the suspected killer. Upshaw's investigation, however, is cut tragically short when a feud between County and City police leads to him being pegged for the killing of a corrupt LAPD detective who questioned his sexuality. Fearing the outcome of this investigation, Upshaw takes his own life with the murder spree still unsolved.
From this point, Meeks and Considine pick up the investigation. Meeks does this out of a sense of responsibility - he committed the killing for which Upshaw was framed, but did so in self-defense while with Audrey Anders, forcing him to cover up the killing for fear of Cohen's reprisal, and inadvertently leading to Upshaw becoming the prime suspect due to his history with the dead man. Considine, meanwhile, partnered with Upshaw while the latter went undercover as a Communist, and feels a sense of obligation to him as well. Meeks and Considine share a rocky history, but set this aside to finish the case. Ultimately they identify the true killer - Reynolds Loftis' illegitimate son Coleman Masskie, with whom he had an incestuous affair, and who was attempting to frame his father in retaliation. In a climactic confrontation, Masskie kills both Loftis and Considine before being killed by Meeks, who is left the sole survivor. Seeking closure, Meeks tracks down a UAES-affiliated psychiatrist who was privy to Masskie's murderous inclinations. He discovers that Masskie, who briefly spoke to Danny Upshaw as a witness early in the investigation, began stalking the deputy and developed a mutual sexual obsession with him.
The investigation also provides an apparent, fictional solution to the Sleepy Lagoon murder - it's revealed that a young Coleman Masskie witnessed LAPD lieutenant Dudley Smith committing the murder, a racist hate crime in retaliation for the Latino victim sleeping with his niece. This was part of what forced Masskie into hiding with his father, and eventually factors into his killings, as he emulates Smith's use of a "zoot stick" when mutilating his victims' corpses. Dudley Smith is a prominent lead investigator of the anti-Communist investigation, and is never charged with the crime - however, this discovery contributes to Meeks' and Considine's disillusionment with the investigation. At the conclusion of the novel, after Mickey Cohen finds out about Meeks' affair with Anders, Meeks burns down the DA's house along with all of the anti-Communist investigative material before leaving town.
While the novel mocks opportunistic red-baiting as a scam to oust organized labor to benefit political careers and the fortunes of movie studio executives and mobsters, Ellroy is no easier on the film colony's communists and fellow travelers, many of whom he depicts as decadent hypocrites, who are easily compromised into "naming names" to hide their dirty secrets. As with most of Ellroy's fiction, he liberally employs the brutal slang of the times. Gays are "fruits," "homos", and "nances;" black people are "boogies" and "jigs:" and their neighborhoods are all "Niggertown."
The Big Nowhere received many positive reviews. Detroit News said, "THE BIG NOWHERE is a stunner....It's a huge, sprawling canvas of postwar Los Angeles as a black hole. It's Harry Bosch between hard covers, taking up where film noir left off as it introduces a trio of warped, cynical cops hopping aboard the Red Scare bandwagon." Gerald Petievich, author of To Live and Die in L.A., praised the book, saying, "THE BIG NOWHERE is a startling panorama of Los Angeles in the fifties. Through the eyes of some unforgettable, two-fisted cops we are taken from the Katydid Club to the Sunset Strip where the legendary crimelord Mickey Cohen buys the drinks...and the D.A. This is a compelling piece." Rave Reviews wrote, "James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia rocked the literary world last year. Now he's back with an even more powerful and compelling novel of greed, dark passion, and murder....James Ellroy has gone from one of the most impressive crime writers of the 1980s to a major literary voice of the twentieth century. THE BIG NOWHERE is a masterpiece-a powerful and disturbing novel no one should miss." While "The Big Nowhere" was praised for being engrossing and atmospheric, it was also criticized for the "unrelenting negative stereotypes" depicted in the gay and minority characters. The Big Nowhere also won Ellroy the Prix Mystère Award, in 1990.
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In other media
- The Big Nowhere is featured in Christopher Nolan's 2014 film, Interstellar, as one of the many novels in Murph's bookshelf.
- Gross, John (9 September 1988). "Books of The Times: A Nondescript Victim, and Los Angeles Shames". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- Schulman, Sarah (9 October 1988). "CRIME/MYSTERY; BIGOTS AND BASHERS". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- Cinematic Literature. "Cinematic Literature Interstellar (2014) by Christopher Nolan Book..." Tumblr. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
- "Interesting book on Murph's bookshelf". Reddit. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
- "What books are shown on the bookshelf in Interstellar?". Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
- Tagholm, Roger (25 November 2014). "Exploring the Books Glimpsed in Interstellar Movie". Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
- "Interstellar (2014) - Trivia - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 12 January 2019.