Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight
--The New Noir--
The renewed interest in noir can, to a large extent, be credited to the awesome Black Lizard reprints of the 1980’s. Under the guidance of Barry Gifford, they brought out tons of great novels from the whole spectrum of the crime fiction underground and made them accessible to everyone. They also published, on occasion, more contemporary writers in the tradition. Gifford should be awarded a sainthood or something for that effort.
Black Lizard was eventually purchased by Random House and merged with their “Vintage Crime” line; but for some reason Random House decided to let almost the entire Black Lizard line go out of print, with the exception of the Jim Thompson titles. After that, they began focusing on more mainstream mystery and detective fiction.
Fortunately, in the ensuing years, many smaller publishers have taken up the mantle. Hard Case Crime is the most visible and successful of them, and they’ve taken it one step further: along with all the great reprints from the likes of Wade Miller, Day Keene, early Lawrence Block, etcetera, they also make a point of publishing new writers in the tradition, like Jason Starr, Ken Bruen, and Christa Faust.
Stark House is also doing great work putting out lost noir classics, as is Disruptive Press and several others. New Pulp Press focuses on new writers, but they've also put out some old Gil Brewer. We readers of the genre owe all these small publishers, big-time.
All the new interest in old noir has led, in the last ten or fifteen years, to a real resurgence of new talent, all inspired to some degree or another by the old masters. I wouldn’t want to speculate on the social or political climate that gave birth to this neo-noir, but something is definitely happening—the disaffected, disenfranchised protagonist has made a serious comeback. While most of these new writers have only a fleeting acquaintance with the bestseller charts, they’ve all at least developed formidable cult followings.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say we were in the midst of a third Golden Age of Noir… but I’ll let you decide for yourself. Check out these writers.
Jason Starr. A seriously formidable noir talent, and one of the purest noir writers around these days. He's been compared favorably to Thompson and Cain, but he's every bit in the tradition of Bret Easton Ellis as well.
Ken Bruen. Irish-born, Bruen’s novels usually chronicles the instability and unrest of his native country. His series character, Jack Taylor, is a disgraced former cop, alcoholic and drug addict. Serious noir, but with a good dose of black humor, they are some of the most emotionally devastating books you’ll ever read.
The Killing of the Tinkers
Once Were Cops
The Magdalen Martyrs
James Sallis is most noted for his series of novels about Lew Griffin, atmospheric noirs usually set in and around New Orleans. Sallis is also a musician, which is apparent in the spare, almost musical, melancholy phrasing in his work. He's a unique talent.
Death Will Have Your Eyes
Reed Farrel Coleman. His books are usually set in his native Brooklyn, and are bursting at the seams with street-level ugliness and black humor.
Tower (w/ Ken Bruen)
The James Deans
Empty Ever After
Walking the Perfect Square
Allan Guthrie. A Scottish writer, Guthrie does blackly intense psycho-noirs where the boundaries between sanity and madness grow increasingly thin. Brilliant, brutal stuff.
Kiss Her Goodbye
Dave Zeltserman led the pack of new noir writers right into the new century with his very particular dark and twisted vision. You need to read him.
Albany-based Vincent Zandri made a big noise with his first two novels, sort of dropped out of sight for awhile, but then recently came roaring back with a steady stream of tight noirs that consistently top the Kindle charts. His work is highly concerned with questions of morality and identity.
The Concrete Pearl
Megan Abbott has an honest, incisive voice with shades of Goodis, fairly dripping with sensual detail, taking noir conventions and turning them on their ear by giving them a new perspective. A major talent.
Bury Me Deep
The Song is You
Die a Little
The End of Everything
Will Christopher Baer's novels about disgraced drug addict cop Phinneas Poe are wildly anarchic and existential tragedies, exploring bizarre themes of urban myth and redemption, just out of reach.
Kiss Me, Judas
Christa Faust is a singularly original writer, and her books have all the action, dark humor and sleazy characters of an old Gold Medal.
Duane Swierczynski has a great sense of the absurd that flirts along the edges of nihilism, and a really original vision.
Secret Dead Men
Fun & Games
Charlie Huston is another noir writer with a terrific imagination and a distinctive voice. He's been equally successful writing comics. His books are huge fun.
Six Bad Things
The Shotgun Rule
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
Philip Kerr is known primarily for his stunning “Berlin Noir” trilogy, featuring Bernhard Gunther, a private detective trying to operate during the Nazi regime. Firmly in the Philip Marlowe tradition.
The Pale Criminal
A German Requiem
Ray Banks's novels about Cal Innes are required reading if you want a sense of what can be done with the modern P.I., and for those who find Rankin a bit long-winded, Bank's concise voice and relentlessly tight plotting are a welcome antidote.
No More Heroes
The Big Blind
Sucker Punch (aka Donkey Punch)
Beast of Burden
Dennis Tafoya is a brand new talent in the world of noir, but his first novel is as self-assured as any pro.
The Wolves of Fairmont Park
Next Wednesday, I'll wrap up our summary of the new Masters of Hardboiled/Noir, and look to the future of the genre, in Part Ten.