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Noir lit

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Blowtorch, May 30, 2017.

  1. Blowtorch

    Blowtorch Familiar Face

    I've really been getting into this genre as of late, from the classics of Hammett and Chandler
    to the more contemporary Lansdale and Lethem.

    I'm always on the lookout for something new though. Any recos? Thanks
  2. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    You could try Loren D. Estleman. His Amos Walker private eye series, which runs from 1980 onward, has that essential cynic's view of the city (in this case Detroit) of noir, and language that can rival Chandler. Also there's Dennis Lehane, who has written 6 (I think) in his Boston-set P.I. series about Angie Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie -- one of them was filmed, Gone, Baby, Gone, directed and adapted beautifully by Ben Affleck. (Say what you like about him as an actor, but Ben's developed into a top-notch director.)

    Lawrence Block's stories about "unofficial" P.I. Matt Scudder, which began in about 1974 and have run to the present, also explore the human darkness, in this case of Manhattan and its surroundings. Matt, as the stories begin, has a serious drinking problem, but he doesn't realize it yet. A former cop, he has no license or official standing; he just does "favors," i.e., investigations for cash, for friends and other people. A recent film adaptation was A Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson as a great Scudder.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2017
  3. DNO

    DNO One Too Many

    You could also try anything by Jim Thompson. I found his novels somewhat bleak, however.

    I just picked up a Cornell Woolwich omnibus by Penguin with Rear Window, I Married a Dead Man and Waltz into Darkness. Haven't started it yet but it looks interesting. I figured if Rear Window was good enough to become a Hitchcock film, it could well be worth reading.

    I have also found James Lee Burke's novels set in New Orleans to be quite impressive.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2017
  4. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

  5. PeterGunnLives

    PeterGunnLives One of the Regulars

    If you don't mind stories where the protagonist is a career criminal involved in a different armed heist in nearly every story and running from the mob, Donald E. Westlake aka Richard Stark's Parker series of novels from the 60s is pretty interesting. It's definitely hard-boiled, two-fisted and noir-ish.
  6. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    A lot of good suggestions. I'd add the modern version of Jim Thompson, James Ellroy. His work has suffered of late but up to the era of The Cold Six Thousand, circa 2000, it's worth a shot. It's definitely an acquired taste and a style that's more than most would want but it is the lunatic extreme of what people like Chandler were working out in their writing. LA Confidential (one of the two books combined to make the movie) is an unbelievable example of style creating the substance. I generally have a LOW opinion of showoffy writers who, like directors who call attention to themselves, tend to take me out of the imaginary experience, but old James Ellroy is the exception.

    Unfortunately, he's become so wrapped up in his shtick that he can't really pull it off any more. Like one of those Scandinavian snakes that eats it's own tail he's vanishing before our eyes.

    The classic author so far missing is Ross MacDonald. Sort of a grown up Chandler (who was also, in my opinion, a show off) he took a style that was a bit of a caricature of itself and just let it breath normal air.

    Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train, and many others) is a bit of a female version of Thompson.

    Two O'Clock Eastern War time by John Dunning combines Noir and 1930s radio production, and he REALLY knows his radio.

    Alan Furst definitely gets the Noir thing going with his WWII spy stories set in Europe, often eastern Europe. Night Soldiers is the "first" but they are not really a formal series. Eastern Europe is the ultimate Noir location!

    Earl Stanly Gardner, beyond the Perry Mason stories, wrote some good Noir.

    Max Allen Collins ... maybe. A couple are OK the rest are filler.

    Phillip Kerr's work, mentioned earlier, carries his detective way past WWII and is pretty darn good but he kind of goes on and on to let you know the guy's REALLY not a Nazi. That detail is overkill.
  7. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I read Alan Furst's "Midnight in Europe" and hugely enjoyed it. ("I heard that you stole a train recently." "Actually, it was more like I borrowed it.") I am now drilling my way through "A Hero of France" and finding it hard going because the "hero" is not that engaging and the story is rambling a bit. But Furst is definitely good at painting the noir world of spies and resistors making their way through the grimy streets of pre-war Europe. The little details strike me as "spot on".
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  8. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Furst seems to have made a fetish of minimalism (wonderful in his prose but not his plots) and takes on that "French" style of making a story all about nothing; the futility of life, etc. On the other hand most of his work is about the early part of the war that and the fact that it is French in style is kind of thematically appropriate. So, it might be "realistic" and probably works if you look at all the stories as a series BUT fiction isn't real life and some of his stuff is a bit of a let down if you are expecting a powerful structure, reversals and crises. Still, I've gotten used to it and have come to accept it in his writing.

    It's VERY hard to write about "real people" (as opposed to superheroes) in a series and blow the doors off every time. I think he's making a point about the "little heroes" who change history but are never known to it. It is nice however, to occasionally allow someone to inhabit their power; do something remarkable because in real reality (at least American reality) there are times when people actually do.
    Tiki Tom likes this.
  9. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    Probably as good an analysis of Furst as I have ever read.

    (I would venture that Phillip Kerr is not as ham-fisted as all that, but that is only my personal opinion. I do acknowledge that mileage may vary.)
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  10. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I really like both of these guys and I do not remember Kerr seeming as defensive about his German/Nazi characters in the early books. I suspect the came under some pressure or criticism I am unaware of. Regardless I'll read anything they write and I always feel I've learned something.

    Not really Noir but I have to also recommend Eye of the Tiger by Wilbur Smith. It's got a bit of flavor of movies like To Have and Have Not and Key Largo while still being utterly its own thing and definitely has the big reversals and pay offs. It's really the big kahuna of High Adventure novels. The only Smith work I'm familiar with that was written in First Person ... it makes me wonder why he didn't do this more often because it seemed to ground him in this book in a very special way.
  11. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I will definitely look into Eye of the Tiger by Wilbur Smith. I am always in the market for a well written adventure.
  12. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    Yes indeed. "I want my money."

    The first of the series has been made into films twice, once as Point Blank with Lee Marvin (to me the definitive Parker), and again as Payback with Mel Gibson. I think Robert Duvall also played the character (though, like the other two, with a different character name) in a film based on one of the other novels.
  13. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    "I heard that you stole a train recently." "Actually, it was more like I borrowed it."

    Darned if that doesn't sound like a line from Robert Wagner's Sixties TV series It Takes a Thief. You could even imagine Cary Grant's retired thief in the Hitchcock film saying it.
  14. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I loved that show. So much so that I wanted to grow up to be Al Mundy. Noir the show was not. But, oh boy, was it ever cool ---at least to a 12 year old boy.

    In fact, I still catch myself whistling that jazzy intro tune sometimes when I'm entering an embassy through the skylight.
  15. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I loved it too at about the same age, though I think it was in reruns. I loved that they cast Fred Astaire.

    I loved these simple guys who have some extremely limited goal that they pursue to the absolute limits. It's extremely important, and often forgotten, that characters should always be allowed to completely inhabit their power, whatever it is. I realize that this was an ongoing character (in the books) but I always assumed it would have been a stronger film if someone who could play it like they weren't the most dynamic or intelligent guy in the world had been cast.

    A great example of this is the book Valdez is Coming (which suffers some of the same problem in its film version) by Elmore Leonard. Valdez is a big, slow, old man. He has no life and doesn't even want one. He does his job with minimal impact and bland competence. He lives in his little house, eats the same boring food. Stares at the sunset. He's little better than a plant. Then someone powerful does something that he feels unjust. It happens to someone he barely knows but he thinks it's right to as for a minor remuneration for the person. He is treated harshly for it. He then proceeds to dismantle EVERYTHING the bad guy has or wants. He does it without ever thinking too much or really acting like a hero. He just wants the person who was hurt taken care of. It's not a lot to ask. He makes the point several times but never threatens or blusters. He's a very peaceful man. But he was an Apache Scout and fought Geronimo. He can shoot a man off a running horse at 300 yards and he doesn't have any compunction about killing people or causing mayhem if he absolutely has to. He's old. His back hurts. He's perfectly willing to stop what he's doing if he can get the little thing he wants. The moral is don't screw with people, even the most pathetic seeming, because you actually don't know who they are. In particular don't screw with people who don't have much because they don't have much to lose.
  16. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    A year or so back I bought the DVD set of the first season, and have dipped into it from time to time. Some of the writers from U.N.C.L.E. worked on it -- Dean Hargrove wrote an early story in which Mundy must overcome a long series of obstacles in his attempt to sneak out of a Communist country. Later Hargrove became the story editor for the series. There were dazzlingly clever episodes, some which were produced in a hurry, and one ("The Radomir Miniature") which features Al's determined struggle to "steal" (i.e., rescue) a ten-year-old girl from her captors in Bulgaria.

    Robert Wagner was in his late 30s then, and looked better than he did in his 20s. Guy must have a special super-secret rejuvenating machine in his basement.

    Anyway: No, not noir at all. I just liked the line Tiki Tom quoted about the train.
  17. greatestescaper

    greatestescaper One of the Regulars

  18. apba1166

    apba1166 A-List Customer

    Dorothy Hughes
    The Blackbirder (among others)

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