The Big Nowhere

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The Big Nowhere
The Big Nowhere.JPG
First edition cover
Author James Ellroy
Cover artist Jacket design by Barbara Buck
Jacket illustration by Stephen Peringer
Country United States
Language English
Series L.A. Quartet
Genre Crime fiction, noir, historical fiction
Publisher The Mysterious Press
Publication date
September 1988
Media type Print (Hardcover & paperback) and audio cassette
Pages 406 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN 0-89296-283-6 (first edition, hardcover)
OCLC 17768709
813/.54 19
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."


What begins in this novel as two separate tales eventually twist together into one, centered on the efforts of an LA Sheriff's Deputy to capture a brutal sex murderer while serving, somewhat reluctantly, as a decoy for a set-up to expose communists in Hollywood. This young deputy, Danny Upshaw, finds himself on a ride that will force him to confront secrets he has kept his whole life, even from himself. Two other major characters, disgraced former cop, Turner "Buzz" Meeks, now working for both Howard Hughes and Mickey Cohen, and ambitious LAPD lieutenant Malcolm "Mal" Considine, involved in a bitter child custody case, try with varying success to do the right things in an environment of deception, paranoia and brutality.

The story begins on New Year's Eve, as 1949 turns to 1950, and creates a vivid portrait of Los Angeles during that era, from the bebop emanating from the jazz clubs on Central Avenue to the labor union battles facing the Hollywood studios. The entire story takes place in the aftermath of the notorious Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the resultant Zoot Suit Riots, an event that roiled LA for years.

While the novel mocks opportunistic Red-baiting as a scam to oust organized labor that benefited 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, easily compromised into "naming names" in an effort to hide their own dirty secrets. As with most of Ellroy's fiction, he liberally employs the brutal slang of the times. Gays are "fruits," "homos," "nances"; blacks 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 Hieronymus 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,[1] it was also criticized for the "unrelenting negative stereotypes" depicted in the gay and minority characters.[2] The Big Nowhere also won Ellroy the Prix Mystère Award, in 1990.[1]


  1. ^ Gross, John (9 September 1988). "Books of The Times: A Nondescript Victim, and Los Angeles Shames". New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Schulman, Sarah (9 October 1988). "CRIME/MYSTERY; BIGOTS AND BASHERS". New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012.