Thursday, April 21, 2005

I had one of those days yesterday where I just didn't want to get out of bed, so I called in sick and worked toward my goal of staying in my pajamas all day. Honestly, (and I hope my boss isn't reading this) I just wanted to finish The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy because it was getting good and I couldn't wait any longer to see how it all played out. The plot was as convoluted as always and involved a string of ghastly murders and the formation of a grand jury to investigate Communism in Hollywood. Corruption and vice are rampant, most of the police force is compromised by scandal, and the heroes and villains are hard to tell apart - vintage Ellroy. This is the second of his Los Angeles quartet and I wish I'd read them all in order, one after the other (something I'll be doing in the near future). I know if I had, Buzz Meeks' death in LA Confidential would have meant more to me than it did. And I probably would've realized earlier that Dudley Smith is the unifying factor, the personification of all the corruption and strong arm police tactics that were on the way out as science and technology began to replace them.

The writing in The Big Nowhere isn't as stripped down and frantic as it is in White Jazz. That's not to say it lacks momentum because once the main characters join forces, it's non-stop action until the end. I love Ellroy's way with words; he manages to make his descriptions evocative but tough as with this sketch of a witness: "Danny smelled stale sweat, leaves and mouthwash on the man, like the knee-length overcoat he was wearing was his permanent address." Isn't that a great line? Anyway. He makes you care about these incredibly flawed characters and their lives and, okay, I admit it, I cried when Danny... well, I don't want to spoil anything. The books are so dark and intense but there's such a rush that comes from reading them. I don't know quite how to describe it. But he leaves most crime writers in his dust, that's for sure.

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