Sure enough, The Big Nowhere, the second novel in James Ellroy’s L. A. Quartet (I have not read the first book in the series, The Black Dahlia, so I’m breaking a cardinal rule here) is very different than the three books that make up the Underworld U. S. A. trilogy, not only in scope and subject matter, but in time and place as well. Do I think it is better than said trilogy? I’d have to read at least two other books in the Quartet to give you a better answer. In ways it is very similar to the Underworld U. S. A. Trilogy despite some glaring differences. The characters are hard-bitten; speak as if they came into this world viewing it as a nightmare, and the reader has very little clue as to where to look for moral comfort or familiarity. It makes for a hard read, as actions and characters seem thin and needlessly complex, but Ellroy is so good at crafting this almost carnival-esque society of brutal murder and the psychopaths who are assigned to deal with it, that I can forgive him these trespasses. The story sees three men from different levels of lawlessness investigate a brutal serial killer and the Red Scare in Hollywood at the dawn of the 1950’s. All three are desperate for something else, such as family, acceptance and freedom, and in that desperation, they sell their souls to the city, not all of them will make it out intact. The serial killings are the best part, as Upshaw, the young upstart, finds himself questioning the weird and the scary, from a former alcoholic who chugs mouthwash, to a wolverine breeder who names his animals things like Rape-O. As these two stories intersect, the true horror of it all really comes out, in a twist that is sure to make you gag. Ellroy is a master at picking the scabs on the underbelly of the American underbelly, and he does so with glee, viciousness, and, if you look closely, a desire that it will all turn out okay. This book is no exception.