THE BIG NOWHERE
More noir bombast from Ellroy (The Black Dahlia, etc.), who sets this cops, Commies, crooks, and creeps saga in 1950 L.A. When upright, uptight Sheriff's Deputy Danny Upshaw catches the squeal, it's particularly gruesome: someone removed the victim's eyes, ejaculated into the sockets, shredded his back with a "Zoot Stick," then chomped on the innards with wolverine teeth. Three more murders, same M.O., follow, but Danny's investigation is slowed by his assignment to a grand jury team investigating the Commie menace in the UAES (United Alliance of Extras and Stagehands), including rich, nympho Claire DeHaven, her "queer" actor fiance Reynolds Loftis, and their left-wing pals. With HUAC tactics--blackmail, mostly--much of Hollywood's homosexual community is threatened, while the emerging Teamsters Union under Mickey Cohen is bashing heads and panel member Lt. Dudley Smith--with a murder of his own to keep under wraps--is making sure that Danny's investigation goes nowhere. Still, there are leads: to Loftis; to a Hollywood agent who arranged "pansy" parties; to jive musicians; to a plastic surgeon; and to the official Communist Party psychiatrist. Meanwhile, panel members Considine and Meeks have their own agenda: Considine and his wife are wrangling over child-custody; Meeks, a pimp for Howard Hughes, is sleeping with Cohen's girl and has to blow away bent cop Niels to keep it secret. Danny is accused of the murder--and commits suicide rather than submit to a lie detector test that will reveal his homophilia. Out of guilt, Meeks, with the help of Considine, picks up on his homicide investigation and uncovers a tale of homosexual incest, homosexual betrayal, rage, murder, and revenge, all neatly documented by the Commie psychiatrist. Despite all the Commie-baiting, the jive talk, the wisecracks, this is a cop story--too long by at least a third but propelled by a mean, dark vision of the world, with dank, sleazy language. Depressing, with a convoluted beginning, an impossible ending (the psychiatrist's rehash of the case), but there's a truly strong middle at 200 pages. On balance: O.K.