Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Hardboiled/Noir Writers Part 5
Here are some of the other great talents that emerged in the Golden Age of Noir:
William Lindsay Gresham wasn't prolific by any means, but his 1946 novel Nightmare Alley is still well-regarded as a twisted, bizarre noir that gave readers an uncomfortably close look at the depraved world of the carny circuit. Tightly written and very, very tense.
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. Noteworthy novels:
The Amboy Dukes
The Square Trap
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, Black Wings Has My Angel, 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.
John D. MacDonald is hugely important in both noir and hardboiled circles. For tightly-paced detective fiction with a very likeable hero, you can’t go wrong with any of the Travis McGee books. This list, however, focuses on his “non-series” work, all masterly-plotted and beautifully written. MacDonald was the consummate professional of noir.
The Brass Cupcake
Murder for the Bride
Judge Me Not
Weep For Me
Dead Low Tide
The Neon Jungle
Cancel All Our Vows
All Those Condemned
A Bullet for Cinderella
Cry Hard, Cry Fast
Cape Fear (aka, The Executioners)
One Monday We Killed Them All
William P. McGivern was another one who went on to do teleplays in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. He wrote convincingly about cops skating on the edge of moral corruption as well as heisters and professional criminals.
Shield For Murder
The Big Heat
Oddsa Against Tomorrow
Ed McBain was the creator of the best-selling ‘87th Precinct’ police procedurals. The first few in the series, at least, were great examples of hardboiled, told, for a change, from the point of view of honest cops (honest cops? In hardboiled/noir fiction? You’re kidding me, right?).
The Blackboard Jungle (as Evan Hunter)
The Con Man
So you may have noticed a distinct lack of the female voice in the genre throughout the decades. Noir was a boy’s club for the most part, no question. 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 was 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
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
Vin Packer was the pen name of the prolific Marjane Meaker, who is remembered mostly today for launching the so-called "lesbian pulp" underground movement of the '50's. In truth, though, the vast majority of her remarkable books had nothing to do with lesbianism. They were solid noir with complex characters and a notable sense of non-conformity.
Come Destroy Me
Whisper His Sin
The Thrill Kids
The Young and the Violent
Dark Don't Catch Me
3 Day Terror
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.
Stranger in the Dark
The Crime is Murder
Seven Days Before Dying
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 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 just a few.
The Man with the Getaway Face
The Rare Coin Score
Lawrence Block was coming up at the same time as Westlake, and in fact the two men were great friends. While Westlake disguised himself as Stark, Block took on multiple pen-names and wrote in a wide variety of styles and genres. Through the early '60's, he wrote a solid string of noirs that, fortunately, have seen print again in recent years.
The Girl with the Long Green Heart (aka Mona)
Death Pulls a Double-Cross (aka Coward's Kiss)
You Could Call It Murder (aka Markham)
A Diet of Treacle (aka Pads are for Passion)
The individual impact of Lawrence Block wasn't over, however, and neither was Westlake's. More about both writers when we come to part seven.
But before that:
Next Wednesday, a brief diversion into... Espionage Noir!
Go to Part Six