Los Angeles, 1950.
The city of angels is now the city of the angel of death.
Three detectives with three different angles will be drawn together into a circle of lies and murder. Danny Upshaw is an LA sheriffs detective with a group of bodies that will lead him to find out more about himself than he bargained for. LAPD lieutenant Malcolm "Mal" Considine is locked in a bitter custody battle for his son, whilst being drawn into the corrupt district attorneys plan to route out communists in Hollywood. Turner "Buzz" Meeks, a disgraced former cop, is now working for millionaire Howard Hughes and gangster Mickey Cohen. Buzz may try to right a few his wrongs along the way.
All three men will come together with front row seats to a nightmare...
1988 novel by James Ellroy and the second part of his "L.A. Quartet."
- Anyone Can Die: By the end of the book both Mal and Danny are dead.
- Ambition Is Evil: The District Attorney is starting another hunt into communists hidden in Hollywood. He doesn't care if the rumors are true and he is only using the investigation as a means to further his career.
- Mal joins the investigation into communism. [[spoiler:
- Artistic License History: Another murder that was never solved in real life is given a resolution.
- Been There, Shaped History: Buzz Meeks bumps elbows with both Howard Hughes and Mickey Cohen, even starting an affair with the latter's mistress.
- With regards to the real-life Sleepy Lagoon murder of Jose Diaz, corrupt cop and L.A. Quartet regular Dudley Smith is revealed to be the culprit. Not only that, but Coleman Masskie/Healey, the "wolverine killer", witnessed the crime as a teenager, which started him down his dark path.
- Bandaged Face: Upshaw hears a lot about a kid with bandages covering a supposedly burned face who used to hang around Marty Goines and help him commit burglaries. In reality, the bandages were the aftermath of plastic surgery. The bandaged kid was Coleman Masskie, Reynolds Loftis' illegitimate son. Reynolds commissioned a facelift from Terry Lux to make Coleman resemble him perfectly, as part of his own twisted incestuous fantasies. At the time he was seen with the bandages, Coleman was recovering from his second visit to Lux, to undo this job by breaking every bone in his face.
- Big Bad Ensemble: The killer is just the tip of the iceberg. In reality, he's a renegade lashing out at his sexually abusive father Reynolds Loftis, and the latter's fiancee Claire De Haven, both influential figures who cover up the killings. On the other side of things there's Dudley Smith, a tremendously corrupt cop who spearheads the anti-Communist investigation to cover up the fact that he was the Sleepy Lagoon murderer. Then there's crime boss Mickey Cohen, who's tangentially involved as well.
- Black-and-Grey Morality: Outside of the main three, most of the characters are complicit in some abhorrent crime or another. Of the main three, Buzz Meeks is a corrupt ex-cop who does dirty work for Mickey Cohen and helps cover up Howard Hughes' affairs with underage girls. Mal Considine is a wife beater. Danny Upshaw might just be the most upstanding of the bunch, and he ends up killing himself.
- Blackmail: Felix Gordean, a Hollywood talent agent, also runs a male escort service, which he uses to identify and blackmail gay men in positions of power. This includes Reynolds Loftis, who Gordean blackmails with knowledge of his affair with his own son. It's also suggested that Gordean identified Upshaw as a closeted gay man after their one encounter, and may have had plans for him.
- Body Horror: The Murders in the book are carried out with extreme vengeance and torture.
- Boom, Headshot!: Mal takes a bullet to the face.
- Broken Pedestal: Claire Katherine De Haven is a figure on the Hollywood social circuit and is a communist sympathizer in order to help people in need. she also enabled a known rapist and murderer get away with his crimes.
- Cowboy Cop: Danny Upshaw and Mal both bend the law when they try to do the right thing.
- Hilariously, Buzz Meeks is a transplant from Oklahoma, and references are made to him working as a ranch hand and a Western movie extra - so he was practically a literal cowboy cop. In practice though he used to be more of a Dirty Cop.
- Dirty Cop: Both the LAPD and the LA county sheriffs department are filled with them.
- Buzz was sacked from the LAPD for this reason.
- Downer Ending: Upshaw killed himself before he ever caught the killer he was obsessed with. Meeks and Considine finished the job for him, with both Considine and the killer shot dead in the process. Meeks, the only one left who even cares about the wolverine killings, skips town and abandons Audrey Anders when Mickey Cohen finds out about their affair.
- Made even worse by the first chapter of LA Confidential, in which Dudley Smith tracks Meeks down and kills him just a week after the end of The Big Nowhere.
- Driven to Suicide: Danny Upshaw in a bid to avert anyone finding out about his homosexuality
- Gayngst: Danny Upshaw
- Jurisdiction Friction: The LAPD and LA County Sherriff's Department are loggerheads over Cohen. Thus Danny gets stonewalled by the LAPD when he first tries to investigate the Goines murder. A free hand in running the case is his top condition for joining the anticommunist task force.
- Karma Houdini: Claire Katherine De Haven ends the book with no repercussions other than a guilty conscience.
- Master of Disguise: The killer, Coleman Masskie. In his daily life under the pseudonym "Coleman Healy", he wears a fake beard. While hunting and killing, he removes this fake beard and dons a grey wig and makeup to impersonate his father, Reynolds Loftis. During the act of killing itself, he wears wolverine-tooth dentures. On top of this, he's been subjected to multiple rounds of plastic surgery that completely altered his face in the past, all while living under different identities or anonymously. Upshaw, Considine and Meeks hear various accounts of a "bandaged kid" who associated with Marty Goines and Reynolds Loftis' seemingly identical younger brother, and Upshaw even meets "Coleman Healy" face to face at the beginning of his investigation. It's not until the end that the investigators finally piece together the numerous identities of the same killer.
- Morality Pet: Mal Considine's adoptive son Stefan. Subverted when an argument over custody of Stefan leads Mal to viciously beat the boy's mother.
- Red Scare: All three characters become part of a task force investigating Communism in Hollywood.
- Police Brutality: Danny actively beats up men in a bid to find the killer. Of course it's pretty standard in this setting.
- Politically Correct History: Averted massively.
- Scary Teeth: The killer mutilates his victims' corpses using a set of dentures he fashioned out of wolverine teeth. Buzz and Mal get to see this in person during the climactic shootout.
- Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: Danny and Mal are trying to do the right thing. Other cops may vary...
- Stupid Crooks: Buzz's stripper girlfriend Audrey embezzles from Mickey Cohen, and is so clumsy at it that he faces an uphill battle covering for her.
- The Reveal: Reynolds was the father of the murderer Coleman, he then formed a sexual relationship with him and drove him mad.
- Turn in Your Badge: Danny Upshaw