Friday, March 19, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Five

Noir was a boy’s club, for the most part. There may as well have been a sign on the door saying No Girls Allowed. But a small handful of brilliant women writers broke in anyway, and showed the boys a thing or two about how to get it done.

Patricia Highsmith
A master (mistress?) of high tension and brutally cynical prose. Her heroes were invariably amoral sociopaths, and her brand of humor was so dark as to completely blot out any light whatsoever. She was well-known as a first-grade misanthrope, and it shows in her work. A really terrific writer; if you haven’t read her, do it now.

Strangers on a Train
The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Blunderer
Deep Water
Little Tales of Misogyny
Slowly, Slowly, in the Wind
A Game for the Living
This Sweet Sickness
Two Faces of January

By the 1950’s, Dorothy B. Hughes had stopped writing to settle into married life, but throughout the ‘40’s her work was extremely popular. She wrote several books, but three in particular are considered benchmarks in the genre:
The So-Blue Marble
Ride the Pink Horse
In a Lonely Place

Helen Nielson was the only female writer of the ‘50’s who contributed regularly to Manhunt and other digest crime magazines of the time, and her novels were every bit as bleak and nasty as the boys.
Obit Delayed
Stranger in the Dark
The Crime is Murder
False Witness

Here are some of the other great talents that emerged in the Golden Age of Noir:

Irving Shulman. He started off as a writer of tough stories and ended as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers, where he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause.
The Amboy Dukes
Cry Tough
The Square Trap

Nelson Algren. More famous now as a left-wing activist (and so many noir writers were), but he wrote at least once book that qualifies him for this list.
The Man with the Golden Arm

Budd Schulberg. He was mostly known as a screenwriter during Hollywood’s Golden Age; he was also a terrific writer of lean, spare noir-fused literature.
--What Makes Sammy Run?

In latter years, Ira Levin would write Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, and The Stepford Wives, but he’s on this list primarily for one novel, his first. A masterpiece of noir.
--A Kiss Before Dying

Bruno Fischer was an active Socialist who actually ran for office in New York. When he wasn’t directly involved in politics, he wrote great crime novels. Amazingly prolific in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, he suddenly stopped writing until the ‘80’s, when he produced his final novel. Here are just a few:
Fools Rush In
The Restless Hands
House of Flesh
So Wicked, My Love

Elliot Chaze was a newspaperman who occasionally wrote novels. In the ‘50’s, he wrote three, but only one of them, the third, was a noir. It’s too bad he didn’t tackle the genre again, since he managed to produce a cult favorite. Some critics think it’s the best book Gold Medal ever put out.
Black Wings Has My Angel

By the early ‘60’s, the explosion of noir fiction was winding down. One of the last of the old school to make a significant mark was Donald Westlake. Under the pen name Richard Stark, Westlake, who passed away just recently, wrote the terrific series of books about professional thief Parker. Brutal and fast-paced, they are some kind of benchmark in noir. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Here's a few of the earlier ones.
The Hunter
The Man with the Getaway Face
The Outfit
The Mourner
The Score
The Jugger
The Seventh
The Handle
The Rare Coin Score
Deadly Edge

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