My James Ellroy kick continues, this time with a book that’s more of a horror novel than mystery.
Book two of Ellroy’s LA Quartet, this is where he began to find his voice. One could see glimpses in The Black Dahlia of the writer he would become. The Big Nowhere proves he can handle a story with a larger scope than a typical paperback mystery.
Ostensibly about the police squeezing the communists who hold the line for unions combating their studio employers, The Big Nowhere manages to mesh in the mob and a gruesome serial killer storyline. It takes a lot of effort, and even though the story is perhaps too unwieldy by the last 50 pages or so, Ellroy mostly manages.
Like his other efforts, the whodunnit aspect of the murder mystery interested me less than the whydunnit. And on this level, Ellroy is quite good. The three detective characters all have interesting back stories and are aspiring to do different things. They move at the whims of men more powerful than they are but still find ways to assert themselves. As I was drawn deeper and deeper into the story, I once again found myself caring how things would shake out for the detectives and what the consequences would be.
There are some drawbacks. As I said earlier, the plot gets exhausted near the end. Some better editing might have cleared this up. Also, without trying to spoil too much, there is a stereotypically tormented closeted gay character in the book and I’ve heard so many times from gay people how condescending and demeaning those characters are. I would love to talk about my bigger issues with the character at length but there’s just no getting around that without giving up important plots. So I’ll say this: if having a poorly written stock tortured gay character at the center of the story is potentially triggering, definitely sit this one out.
Overall, despite that subplot, I liked the book and am looking forward to Ellroy’s other efforts, although I’m gonna have a hard time sleeping tonight without certain images in my head.