Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hardboiled/Noir Writers Part 9

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.

Panic Attack
Hard Feelings
Nothing Personal
Cold Caller
Fake I.D.
The Follower
The Pack

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 Guards
The Killing of the Tinkers
Once Were Cops
The Dramatist
The Magdalen Martyrs
The Devil

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.

Long-legged Fly
Black Hornet
Death Will Have Your Eyes
Cypress Grove
Cripple Creek

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.

Two-Way Split
Kiss Her Goodbye
Hard Man
Kill Clock
Savage Night

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.

Small Crimes
Bad Thoughts
Fast Lane

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 Innocent
Moonlight Falls
The Concrete Pearl
The Remains

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
Penny Dreadful
Hell's Half-Acre

Christa Faust is a singularly original writer, and her books have all the action, dark humor and sleazy characters of an old Gold Medal.

Money Shot
Choke Hold

Duane Swierczynski has a great sense of the absurd that flirts along the edges of nihilism, and a really original vision.

The Blonde
The Wheelman
Severance Package
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.
Caught Stealing

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.

March Violets
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
Saturday’s Child
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.

Dope Thief
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.


  1. Goddamn Heath. That was amazing again, but I wanted to post links to the whole shabang there's another one? You tease!!!

  2. Ben, ha! It's running a little longer than anticipated. But next week is the final installment. And thanks for reading, man.

  3. Great as always, and difficult because it's always hard to take the temperature of a contemporary scene.

    Couple of small clarifying points:

    -Black Lizard also published originals in addition to the reprints. Jim Nisbet and Sin Sorraco are two notable examples.

    -Money Shot wasn't Christa Faust's first crime novel

    -Charlie Huston's comic writing came about because of his novels which he was writing first

  4. Thanks for the clarifications, Brian, I'll make corrections accordingly. As far as Christa's first crime novel, I had some trouble deciding whether or not Hoodtown, as great as it was, qualified. I suppose it does...

  5. Great post Heath. I always learn a lot of cool shit about Noir when I'm here.

  6. Loved the whole series. Great stuff.

    Moody Writing

  7. Thanks, Matthew and Mood-- one more to go.

  8. Thanks for this Heath, I can't tell you how good it is to have those little rundowns on where the author is from and what they're about. The authors should use them for their bios.

  9. I enjoyed the hell out of these. There is always too much to read, which is not a bad thing.

  10. Looking through those covers I really have the sense of that golden age. Good call Mr Lawrence. I know you couldn't put up 'The Bastard Hand', but it would fit there like severed fingers in a glove.

  11. Goddamn it. Remind me to hide my wallet before I visit your site next time...
    Great list, by the way. Goddamn it.

  12. Great post, Heath. I'm glad you recognized the contributions of Black Lizard in reviving classic noir. It was right around then I became curious about noir and Black Lizard gave me my introduction to Thompson, Goodis, Willeford, and all the rest of them.

  13. Thanks, comrades, for the kind words. And I really appreciate all the re-tweets, re-postings, re-gurgitations, etc. This has been a labor of love. Next Wednesday wraps it all up... but just wait until you see the series I have planned NEXT... heh

  14. Great post. I just added you to my list of "Arresting Authors" and reviewed your contribution to OFF THE RECORD.