Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keith Rawson's Essential Noir

Keith Rawson is the author of well over 100 short stories, published all over the damn webbies. He's also a noted commentator and critic and general ne'er-do-well who clearly has the goods on lots of different people in the seedy world of crime fiction. He's also a contributing editor for Crimefactory Magazine. He runs one of the best blogs around at Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingers: you really need to check it out on a regular basis.
I'm assuming Keith doesn't require sleep.

Keith writes:
"When Heath asked me to contribute one of these lists to Psycho-Noir, I was thrilled, because the one thing I have an opinion about (at least an opinion that I’m willing to express publicly.) is books. Particularly books of the noir/hard-boiled persuasion. Of course, I just couldn’t send through a simple list of books that have influenced me, I had to go ahead and muddy things up by including an explanations of why I put the book on my list. Quick word of warning, folks, I’m not going to include Crime and Punishment or MacBeth or any pretentious shit like that. Dos and old Shaky are great, but they belong in LIT/101, not on a list of great pulp novels."

1) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain: No, I'm just not putting it on this list because I'm expected to put old timey classics on something like this. I actually like it. Plus, Cain was the shit and could write circles around guys like Hammet and Chandler.

2) Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy: Before the purists chime in, yes, I know it's hard-boiled crime, but it's the hard-boiled novel. By the way, there's going to be a lot more "hard-boiled" as opposed to "noir" on this list, so deal with it

3) The High Priest of California by Charles Willeford: Nobody dies, there's no gratuitous violence, the protagonist simply manipulates a situation until he gets what he wants and then discards what he worked so hard for—yeah, a piece of ass—without a second thought. WWWD?

4) The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson: Degenerate drunks always make the best crime writers

5) Black Friday by David Goodis: Degenerate, crazy drunks make even better ones)

6) I was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond: ooooooogggggiiiiiiieeee! Yes, it's disturbing enough to make a 37 year-old man write/squeal "ogie". Also, further proof that degenerate drunks make the best crime writers. No, I'm not a degenerate drunk, I'm a respectable, functional drunk, which explains why I'm not writing at the same level.

7) Big Bad Love by Larry Brown: Don't even start, I know it's a short story collection, but damn, what a collection. Brown was a master of the short form and could say more with 2000 words than 99% of his contemporaries could say with 300,000. And while not exactly noir, Brown's fiction is darker and harder than most 'crime' writers

8) Child of God by Cormac McCarthy: You thought I was going to say Blood Meridian, didn't you? Nope, Child of God still makes my skin crawl more then any of McCarthy's novels.

9) The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins: The greatest crime novel of the 20th century. There, I said it

10) L. A. Confidential by James Ellroy: The novel which would redefine crime fiction for 20 years after its appearance. Big, over the top, violent, brilliant

11) Controlled Burn by Scott Wolven: Yeah, more short stories, but each story is a novel in miniature. The collection has defined a generation of writers

12) Give Us A Kiss by Daniel Woodrell: I know, I know, most people consider Death of Sweet Mister and Tomato Red to be superior novels, but Give Us A Kiss set the stage for his future novels and introduced the Dolly's to the world

13) The Walkaway by Scott Phillips: Has Phillips ever written a bad book? The sequel to Phillips debut, the Ice Harvest, is superior in every way to the original

14) The Song is You by Megan Abbott: Like Phillips, Abbott has yet to write a bad novel, but in my opinion, The Song is You was the novel Abbott was meant to write. Dark, atmospheric, meticulously researched.

15) American Skin by Ken Bruen: I could put any Bruen title on here really. Bruen has been a true innovator in the genre, redefining both sub-genres of the P.I. novel and the police procedural, but for me it’s the Irish author’s stand alone novels which truly define him as a novelist. American Skin is taunt, explosive and has defined Bruen’s output since its release.

16) Drive by James Sallis: The very definition of noir minimalism. Sallis never wastes a sentence, hell he doesn’t waste a word. Fast paced, sparsely poetic, should be required reading for anyone who wishes to indulge in the expensive hobby of writing fiction.

17) Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie: Modern crime fiction’s darkest writer. Just when you think Guthrie can’t bow his characters any lower, he makes sure to grind their faces into the mud and shit of their souls.

18) The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman: Coleman’s opus, a bleak masterpiece that most future P.I. fiction will be judged against. I’m not shitting you, it’s that good.

19) Jimmy Bench Press by Charlie Stella: Stella has been redefining mob novels since he started applying his considerable imagination to writing novels. Admittedly, not his most accomplished novel, however it is his most realistic. The dialogue is whip sharp and you honestly feel as if you’re standing and eavesdropping on the characters

20) Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman: Zeltserman’s loose Man out of Prison trilogy has, in its short existence, become a hallmark of noir/hardboiled literature. Small Crimes, Pariah, and Killer are all equally intense (and vastly different) reads, but for me Small Crimes sets the bar exceptionally high, not only for Zeltserman’s future output, but for all hardboiled novels that will come after it.


  1. Great list. And I love GIVE ME A KISS too. No one can really cover it in less than 50 books.

  2. Great list, Keith. Of course I will order every single book that I do not have on this list. You have been 'spot on' every time you make a suggestion. I totally trust you. So happy for the list.

  3. Good list. Glad to see you put Willeford near the top. One of the best and too often overlooked by the younger crowd.

  4. Thanks for this excellent list, Keith. It is duly noted, and I will be checking them out. Looking forward to it!

  5. Cool list. I've never heard of Scott Wolven, but I'm putting him on my list.

  6. Some good stuff there. "High Priest ...' is a great choice.Didn't CW do a play of it? Charlie Stella has the best title!

  7. Good list, Keith. And I enjoyed the explanations, too. Good to see Willeford, Higgins, and Sallis make your list.