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The Big Nowhere - James Ellroy "It was written that I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness.

Newspapers labelled the death of José Gallardo Diaz the Sleepy Lagoon Murder because his unconscious body was found near a local swimming hole. The police arrested 17 Hispanic males for the “murder” even though they had no evidence that a murder had occurred. Diaz was inebriated and eventually died from a fracture at the base of the skull. No one was able to determine exactly how the fracture occurred. He could have just fallen or been in a car accident, details are sketchy. Regardless all 17 of the Hispanics were sentenced to varying lengths of jail time. 9 were convicted of second-degree murder and sent to San Quentin. This was 1942.

It pissed a lot of people off.

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The “unpatriotic” Zoot-Suits being admired by a police officer and a passing young woman.

In 1943 war has broken out and thousands of White American sailors and marines are stationed in Los Angeles. They find the Zoot Suits worn by the Hispanic males as unpatriotic and too extravagant to be worn during war. Riots broke out with sailors and marines cruising the streets looking for Zoot Suits to slash with razor blades embedded in 2x4s.

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Sailors and Marines keeping America safe from the invasion of Zoot-Suits.

Sigh. Really?

Flash forward to 1950s Los Angeles and a mutilated body is found with Zoot Suit Stick wounds. There are realistic fears that if this were to come to light that it could spark another riot. The case is further compounded by the fact that it is suspected the victim is a homosexual. The investigating officer Danny Upshaw already knows how his fellow officers will label the crime.


Homophobia is a pathological condition in 1950.

Even though Upshaw is told to let this investigation slide back into the primordial desires from which it sprung... he cannot. He is dealing with conflicting feelings about his own sexual orientation and there are circumstances regarding the death that are beyond just torture, beyond just murder. He is a rising star in the department and when Lieutenant Mal Considine is asked to head up a task force investigating Communism in Hollywood Upshaw is asked to join the team. If he keeps his nose clean he could be the youngest man to ever receive Lieutenants bars.

You know how it is. Stick with us kid and you’ll go places.

Now Considine is a piece of work. While he was making the world safe for democracy in Europe his wife was hiding the salami with one of his co-workers Buzz Meeks. He finds out about it and falls in lust with a Czechoslovakian woman who had been the mistress of a Nazi officer that just happens to be on trial. She tells him stories about the sexually perverted things this Nazi used to do to her.

It turns him on.
It infuriates him.

He shoots the Nazi in the face several times.

Because he is a rising star, and after all it is only a Nazi the whole incident is swept under the carpet. He brings the woman back to the states and marries her.

In 1950 she wants a divorce. She tells him that all those things that she told him about the Nazi were made up because she could tell how much it turned him on. He beats her to a pulp. We aren’t talking a few love slaps or a punch or two in anger this is teeth flying, bones breaking, may never look the same again kind of beating.

It will be alright Mal, your future is still bright. This will all be worked out after all she is barely a citizen.

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Buzz find me something young and fresh.

Buzz Meeks is a disgraced cop for a variety of infractions, but lands on his feet with a job pimping underage girls for Howard Hughes. He also provides some muscle for Mickey Cohen the reigning Jewish Gangster in Los Angeles. Because of his “special talents” mainly doing whatever someone wants to pay him to do he is asked to join the Communist Task Force. He’s not so sure because he was shot up pretty bad a few years ago and he thinks that Considine might have arranged the hit as payback for the before mentioned salami work he did with the ex-wife. Meeks has another problem he is making the beast with two backs with Cohen’s best girl.

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Buzz, I love you, but I’m going to have to kill you. It can be slow or it can be fast what you say next is going to decide which.

Death wish much?

More corpses show up. Cops are shot. Betrayal is the natural order of business creating unlikely allies in a race to discover who will die next and who needs to die next. Jazz musicians, burglary, wolverines, heroin, queer escort services., a promiscuous communist Emma Goldman want-a-be, crooked cops, a woman sleeping with a revolving door of men for the lord, all perfectly natural circumstances to show up in a James Ellroy novel. This is an ambitious novel and Ellroy as always isn’t afraid to hold up the grotesque for us to see. The book is full of interesting, flawed characters who will continue to create involuntary shudders from me for the next several months. Ellroy does have one white knight, but he is so scrambled mentally that he sinks under the constriction of his own confusion.

I found the book ponderous which is why despite the Herculean effort by Ellroy I landed on three stars. There was so much going on that I felt overwhelmed and wanted Ellroy to wrap up some of the loose threads sooner. The book is subtitled The Red Scare 1950 and I wanted more of the investigation into Communism, but the characters became too mired in their personal problems shoving that part of the book to a backburner.

Ellroy was criticized for being too flagrant with his depiction of a homophobic America. Maybe he does bludgeon the reader with the stupid behavior surrounding homophobia, but then Ellroy always uses a big stick when he is trying to make a point. I enjoyed the other two novels in the L.A. Quartet: [b:The Black Dahlia|21704|The Black Dahlia (L.A. Quartet, #1)|James Ellroy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328772917s/21704.jpg|434] and [b:L.A. Confidential|57727|L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet #3)|James Ellroy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348575361s/57727.jpg|2589940]. The fourth book,[b:White Jazz|101000|White Jazz (L.A. Quartet, #4)|James Ellroy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328662450s/101000.jpg|1122011], I still need to read and after I shake off some of the weight of this book I will certainly read it as well.