The Big Nowhere

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The Big Nowhere
The Big Nowhere.JPG
First edition cover
AuthorJames Ellroy
Cover artistJacket design by Barbara Buck
Jacket illustration by Stephen Peringer
CountryUnited States
SeriesL.A. Quartet
GenreCrime fiction, noir, historical fiction
PublisherThe Mysterious Press
Publication date
September 1988
Media typePrint (Hardcover & paperback) and audio cassette
Pages406 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN0-89296-283-6 (first edition, hardcover)
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3555.L6274 B5 1988
Preceded byThe Black Dahlia (1987) 
Followed byL.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.


The plot is about three characters: L.A. Deputy Sheriff Danny Upshaw investigates a string of brutal sex murders, working outside the law in his efforts to catch the killer; 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, Upshaw becomes increasingly obsessed with his murder case and begins to confront his own latent homosexuality in the process. The murders begin to connect to the United Alliance of Extras and Stagehands (UAES), a left-leaning Hollywood labor union being targeted by the task force, when an actor affiliated with the organization, Reynolds Loftis, 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.

Meeks and Considine, Upshaw's former partner, 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, and his coverup of the killing inadvertently led to Upshaw being framed. Meeks and Considine share a rocky history, but set this aside to finish the case. Ultimately they identify the true killer: 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 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 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 factored into his killings, as he emulated Smith's use of a "zoot stick" when mutilating his victims' corpses. Smith is a prominent lead investigator on the task force 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 Cohen finds out about Meeks' affair with Anders, Meeks burns down the district attorney'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.


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]

In other media[edit]


  1. ^ Gross, John (9 September 1988). "Books of The Times: A Nondescript Victim, and Los Angeles Shames". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  2. ^ Schulman, Sarah (9 October 1988). "CRIME/MYSTERY; BIGOTS AND BASHERS". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  3. ^ Cinematic Literature. "Cinematic Literature Interstellar (2014) by Christopher Nolan Book..." Tumblr. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Interesting book on Murph's bookshelf". Reddit. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  5. ^ "What books are shown on the bookshelf in Interstellar?". Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  6. ^ Tagholm, Roger (25 November 2014). "Exploring the Books Glimpsed in Interstellar Movie". Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Interstellar (2014) - Trivia - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 12 January 2019.

External links[edit]