Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pete Risley's Essential Noir

Just recently had the honor of making the acquaintance of Pete Risley, the author of RABID CHILD, one of the most talked about debut novels of 2010, published by New Pulp Press. You wonder what books inspired his twisted mind? Here ya go...

Pete says:
"I always enjoy reading lists like this, but I think they tend to get most interesting once the list-makers get past the great ‘canonical’ works that almost everyone in the category has been influenced by, and point out their own less-predictable favorites. Therefore, I'll cheat a little bit and skip Hammett, Chandler, etc, so I can maybe provide an entire list of interesting picks – though I guess some I’ve settled on are pretty standard choices after all. Others, though, are not."

1. Paul Cain (George Sims), FAST ONE, 1934. Gambling, gangsters and a ‘dipso’ moll in Los Angeles. Episodic and written in a clipped, fast-paced style Chandler called “ultra-hardboiled.”
2. James M. Cain, SERENADE, 1937. Down-and-out American tough-guy opera singer in Mexico gets his groove back when he meets hard but sweet Indian-Latina trollop, but a star-crossed fate awaits them. Driven by a dubious concept of homosexual attraction and its effect on the male singing voice.
3. John B. Sanford, THE OLD MAN’S PLACE, 1935. Yankee farmer’s son returns home from the Great War with two criminal companions, all of them set to get stupid-drunk, trash the place and raise hell just for the hell of it. The entrance of a na├»ve girl onto the scene brings more trouble still. A harsh, nihilistic work by a writer just then about to turn radical left. Underrated. Reprinted as a ‘50’s paperback with new title THE HARD GUYS.
4. Horace McCoy, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE, 1948. From prison break to gangster crime spree, a vicious, sexually-twisted sociopath leaves scorched earth behind. Standard-setter for much noir fiction that followed.
5. Mickey Spillane, ONE LONELY NIGHT, 1951. With Cold War paranoia still reaching for its height, Mike Hammer takes on the international Communist conspiracy. Culminates in a scene of spiced-up bloody carnage that's as absurd as it is effective. Then comes the brutal surprise ending that literally out-McCarthys Joe McCarthy.
6. Chandler Brossard, WHO WALK IN DARKNESS, 1952. Dark intrigue among literary hipsters in Beat era Greenwich Village. Roman a clef, that is, based on real people, including Anatole Broyard and William Gaddis.
7. John Clellon Holmes, GO, 1952. Young Allen Ginsberg as pathetic noirish mental case among NYC hipsters. Also has characters based on Kerouac, Neal Cassady, others from the circle.
8. William S. Burroughs, QUEER, written c. 1953, published 1985. Written immediately after his first novel JUNKIE. Starkly depicts self-revulsion and despair that led 'William Lee' to junk in the first place. A scene in which Lee creeps out acquaintances in a bar by doing a twisted Burroughsian 'routine,' which he continues composing in his head after they split and leave him in solitude, is key to the author's sensibility.
9. Jim Thompson SAVAGE NIGHT, 1953. A bizarre hit man hits it off with a still-stranger girl. Along with the slighter work A HELL OF A WOMAN, this novel displays Thompson's urge to represent the increasing derangement of his protagonists by exploding the narrative itself.
10. Elliot Chaze, BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, 1953. Irresistible attraction between tough, frustrated WWII vet and dangerous doll leads to wild road-tripping crime spree.
11. Harriet Daimler, DARLING, 1956. Arguably noir porn novel from Olympia Press, Paris. Young female artist in NYC seeks sexual fulfillment and/or revenge after being viciously raped. Very dirty.
12. Peter Rabe, KILL THE BOSS GOODBYE, 1956. Crime boss in fragile mental state cuts short his rest cure to thwart a takeover attempt. A cold and sharp study of personal disintegration under pressure.
13. Fletcher Flora, PARK AVENUE TRAMP, 1958. Beautiful, booze-addled trophy wife on the prowl for love/sex seduces a lonely, doomed lounge pianist. A very dark and moving love-but-not-love story.
14. John McPartland, THE KINGDOM OF JOHNNY COOL. 1959. Aspiring, very tough young Italian mobster in US on hit mission gets tripped up when smitten with unlikely girl. Compare with far sleazier THE PEDDLER by Richard Prather, as well as sleazier and crazier SAVAGE NIGHT by Thompson.
15. Vin Packer, THE DAMNATION OF ADAM BLESSING,1961. Variant on Ripleyesque user/trickster, whose weaknesses bring about a bizarre, unexpected meltdown.
16. Charles Perry, PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN DROWNING, 1962. Grim story of Oedipal-complexed juvenile delinquent in Brooklyn drawn into gangster life, even as his psyche is crumbling. Compare with KILL THE BOSS GOODBYE.
17. Malcolm Braly, SHAKE HIM TILL HE RATTLES, 1963. Jazz musicians, shabby hipsters, cons and a sadistic cop in the North Beach district of San Francisco.
18. Schneck, Stephen. THE NIGHTCLERK. 1965. Effete, grossly fat clerk in hot-sheet hotel obsesses over the fantasy-fulfilling antics of his nymphomaniac hooker wife. Floridly-written black humor novel.
19. Curt Clark (Donald E. Westlake), ANARCHAOS, 1967. Science Fiction novel with noir atmosphere, set on lawless planet of gangsters.
20. Rudolph Wurlitzer, NOG, 1969. Oddly convincing tale of the deeply stoned journeyings of a young man who might once have had a truck and a rubber octopus, and who meets a girl, and then some other people. Maintains a noirish sense of detached dread, threatening to go full-tilt hallucinatory at any time, if indeed it hasn’t already.
21 (one more for the road). Jim Nisbet, DEATH PUPPET, 1989. Bored waitress in a small town has tryst with strangely enticing traveling salesman. Turns out she shouldn’t have…


  1. Just in time for X-Mas. Thanks, Pete!

  2. Rudy Wurlitzer. Also wrote Two Lane BlackTop?

  3. Yeah, it's the same guy. His most recent novel is THE DROP EDGE OF YONDER (c. 2008), a western, which is based on a screenplay he'd been trying to get produced for some years, and had been passed around a lot. Wurlitzer reportedly felt that Jim Jarmusch, who'd at one point wanted to do it but changed his mind after disputes, might have been influenced a great deal by his script in putting together the movie DEAD MAN, for which Jarmusch gets the writing credit. Of course, I have no idea who's right in this... but anyway, Wurlitzer said in an interview I've read that he chose to make his script into a novel rather than attempt to sue. So, it's interesting to compare the novel with DEAD MAN. Both kind of fall into the 'Acid Western' concept.

    Wurlitzer also did the screenplays for PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (and wrote a novel, SLOW FADE, about a film director who seems to be based on Peckinpah) and Alex Cox's WALKER. I recently saw, for the first time, a 1971 movie scripted by Wurlitzer titled GLEN AND RANDA, a post-apocalypse story. Didn't grab me too much, I'm sorry to say, but it's interesting as a hippie-era artifact.

  4. I'm so pleased to see you mention Charles Perry's PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN DROWNING. You don't hear mention of it very often, and I think it's a tremendous noir novel. While perhaps not quite at the same level, it does remind me in many ways of Horace McCoy's KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE (which I see is also on your list). Great stuff, both of them.

    I see ANARCHAOS, too, and a few other favorites of mine...nice picks.

    ~ Ron C.

  5. most of that is stuff i've not read, so i guess i'd better get to it. love the feel of the titles.