Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The New Writers

I’ve spent the last few months doing a sort of survey of modern noir fiction. My knowledge of the genre was pretty much confined to the “old school” stuff until then, books and writers from the 20’s to the early ‘60’s, and I had almost no inkling of the scope and diversity of the new breed. I stumbled into it, really, with a Hard Case Crime book by Jason Starr, and from there I did the research and sought out other writers. Made a few on-line friends in the process as well. Over all, the whole experience has been fantastic.
All told, I sampled about twenty writers working in the field right now. Some of them were duds, but most of them-- surprisingly-- were well-worth reading and a few were even brilliant. Based on this crash course in modern noir, here are some of the modern writers that really blew me away:
Jason Starr. Nothing Personal, Fake I.D., and Hard Feelings all reveal a writer who understands his setting and his characters deeply. He makes me think of some strange inter-breeding of Jim Thompson and Brett Easton Ellis.
Megan Abbott. Queenpin, Bury Me Deep, and Die A Little. Abbott is a serious writer with a gorgeous voice that recalls Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis.
Christa Faust. Money Shot is funny, fast and tight, with great sympathetic characters and an attitude that makes me think of the paperback originals of the fifties.
Duane Swiercynski. Severance Package is high-octane, high concept fun. While not strictly noir, it's got noir elements and redefines how beautifully over the top an action story can be.
Charlie Huston. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. Completely modern in his sensibilities, Huston gives us characters who say what we wish we could say, and is a master at upping the ante at every available opportunity. He's also got a wicked sense of humor.
Alan Guthrie. Slammer, Two-Way Split, and Savage Night all rocked my world; Slammer especially impressed me with its nerve-wracking tension and ever-increasing sense of doom and madness. Guthrie just seems to get better and better with every book.
Ken Bruen. The Guards, The Dramatist, Priest, and Sanctuary were a revelation. Bruen puts his characters throught the grist without mercy or sentiment, manages to be blackly funny at the same time, and each book leaves you emotionally drained.
Guthrie and Bruen, in particular, absolutely devastated me and made me realize I’d better up my game a bit. I’m not sure what they’re drinking in Scotland, but it’s clearly something with a healthy measure of angst and tension. My estimation: they are the two best writers of noir currently active.
All of the mentioned writers, however, are ones that I intend to follow actively. Each one of them makes me realize that we are, indeed, living in the third Golden Age of Noir.


  1. Quite the list -- some of my favs. "Slammer" has been high on my "to read" list for far too long. That's gotta change real soon.

  2. Great stuff. Like you I'm late to this writers and have spent the last year catching up!