Top positive review
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An extremely exciting lead up to Underworld USA
on 28 November 2002
The first in the series, "The Big Nowhere", follows on very loosely from "The Black Dhalia" and follows its style closely. It is a chilling study of corruption as are all of Ellroy's works. By the close of this book we know Dudley Smith is a bad, bad man. But so are all of the other characters. Smith just happens to be much badder. As we move on into the brilliant "LA Confidential" we are guided by a man who could be even badder, but his work with Dudley turns him into a better person. Ellroy skillfully opens up the narrative threads, allowing his protagonists their full voice and giving us clearsight into their actions. If you've seen the film of this book pretend it's a film of a different book. The protagonists are even badder again but by now you are so desensitised to the pervasive baddness of LA in general that you root for them all the same.
I love Ellroy's work. The Dudley Smith trio allows him to segue from almost pure crime writing to historical fiction and sets the stage perfectly for his as yet infinished "Underworld USA" trilogy that begins with "American Tabloid". "American Tabloid" was the first James Ellroy novel I ever read, followed by "The Cold 6 Thousand", so when the character Pete Bondurant turned up in "White Jazz", my pulse raced. I can't remember the last book I read that has an actual physiological effect on me. I was so excited because, having read the later books, I knew where he was going, and it was great to see how he was going to get there.
One of the brilliant things about the Dudley Smith trio as whole is that we never see the world from Smith's perspective. He is just there, a lurking evil. Rather we get to know him though his interactions with Ellroy's detailed, troubled protagonists. We are given the chance to know what the characters do not know, only because of the different perspectives of the characters themselves. But we never really know what Smith is up to, until exactly the right moment.
Ellroy is one of the few novelists whose work I just can't put down. I read most of his books in two or three sittings because I just couldn't stand not knowing what was about to be revealed next. The only reason I didn't give this collection 5 stars is that his later works of historical fiction are just that much better again. Ellroy improves with age and I have great hopes for the next in the Underworld USA series.