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4.7 out of 5 stars21
4.7 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 11 October 2012
I do not think that it is very clever to use a plot spoiler as the title of a compilation. The books themselves are gritty Ellroy at his best. A previous compilation included the Black Dahlia as well and was called the LA quartet. I think the four books fit together well although each can stand alone.
The basic theme that unites the tales is 'white men behaving badly'. Ellroy understands psychopaths; their superficial charm, narcissism and lack of conscience. Dudley Smith is one of modern literature's great psychopaths and yet is a periphral character in all the books. He is more fully described in the earlier Clandstine. Ellroy paints Smith subtly and he lurks in the background; all bonhomie and immeasurable menace, unspeakable acts left to our imagination.
Smith is right up their with Andrew Vachss' Wesley
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on 24 January 2000
This trilogy comprises The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz, which along with The Black Dahlia make up James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet. Taken together, these blood-soaked crime thrillers are nothing less than a history of that quintessential post-war American town, Los Angeles, as told from the viewpoint of rogue cops, killers, prostitutes, junkies, movie starlets, Mafia strongmen, Cold War crusaders, politicians, lawyers and other such lowlifes. The Dudley Smith Trio is a great introduction to the unique work of James Ellroy and a must for fans of crime fiction.
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on 25 February 2014
If you like it, you'll love it. Ellroy gets right until American underworld. The writing is terse and poetic. The moodiness of it all will have you reaching for your trilby hat. If there were ten stars, I would give it 11.
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on 19 November 2013
He's an acquired taste, for sure, but like anything requiring a bit of effort, Ellroy rewards you in spades. His characters are deeply flawed, complex, racist, violent and very much a product of the era in which these books are based, but once you get into the rhythm of it all you can't help but love them all, reflecting the honest admiration his enemies often acquire for each other over time. I wish I'd read these three and then read American Tabloid et al, but I did it backwards. Next time I'll read them in order, a future pleasure extant.
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on 6 February 2001
Dudley Smith is a cop's cop. He makes no compromises in his dealings with either the criminal fraternity or his fellow police officers. He uses and abuses both with equal disregard. On the surface he is a God-fearing family man who puts family values above all else. But his alter-ego shows a vicious, sadistic man. A man on the take. A man who would use every means at his disposal to further his own criminal ends. Make no mistake, anyone who crosses Dudley Smith must have a death wish. He has his finger in more crooked deals than you could imagine. He will tramp over the reputations if not the bodies of his fellow police officers in his quest to climb the promotion ladder. A move designed to give him unparalled power within the LAPD and in his nefarious illegal activities. Each of the books in the trilogy reveals further sordid facets of Dudley Smith's checkered career. The culmination of his way of life had to be explosive, and in the final part, Dudley Smith faces his nemisis in true DS style. Death would have been too good for him, given the grief which he had visited on others both in the line of duty and in the furtherance of his criminal goals. As DS would so easily say in his soft Irish brogue, "Ah, grand lad, grand!" I have read and reread this trilogy and I can always manage to come up with some new perspective on DS.
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on 19 May 2013
These a very dark stories, the Big Nowhere in particular is a heavy story and it is definitely worth bearing that in mind when considering them. Also anyone who has seen LA Confidential will probably find the book sufficiently different to justify reading it as though it is a different story with some characters you've heard of. The changes are very significant, with the book having more time to flesh out characters and therefore time to have more of them. Having said that, neither is a negative. These are good books that make you want to get to the end and find out how it all finishes. The darkness and in ways disturbing nature of the crimes and characters just makes you even more interested in seeing it through and finding out how it all pans out.

Sometimes the narrative can speed up and get confusing but if anything that is the point, everything is confusion and you feel the confusion that the main characters are trying to find their way through. It is interesting that Dudley Smith always remains just out of the readers view as he is the one character who seems to not be suffering from the confusion.
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on 11 November 2014
Almost all of the unmerciful LA Quartet compiled in one volume. Ellroy is the greatest living writer of pure, unforgiving masculine prose. His detailed account of the Life and how it ruins good men and women is one of the most fascinating ever committed to the page.
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on 28 July 2014
Trying to get a handle on the 1950's vernacular and cop/gangster slang was a challenge but the style of writing and intensity of the characters and interactions is superb. I wish I'd read these years ago as they set a very high standard.
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on 20 January 2015
Ellroys prose are brutal and raw, but compelling.This labyrinthine tale follows the corrupt, and ruthless Dudley Smith over three decades.The events described leave you chilled,but enthralled. I,m now searching out my next Ellroy novel.
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