By Vincent Zandri
A man walks a concrete sidewalk in the steely dark of a cold, wet night. He’s got a lit cigarette dangling from his lips and the collar on his worn, black leather coat is pulled up high to block the biting wind and the memory of a kiss that has left red lipstick tattooed to his neck. It will be the last kiss he ever gets from that woman whose name he is already trying to forget and perhaps will after his fourth of fifth shot of Jack. Meanwhile the rain picks up and the red, white and blue neon blinks on and off again with all the sad rhythm of a breaking heart. Steam rises up from the grates as if the devil has been summoned and the good Lord above is nowhere to be seen. Not in this God forbidden city. Not in Albany.
People ask me why I like to write noir. But it’s kind of like asking me why I like to breathe. It is a genre to which I am naturally attracted, just like I’m a sucker for a tall, meaty, big browned-eyed brunette with long, lush dark hair that drapes down her back hiding a small tattoo of a skull and crossbones. If any kind of literature were to attract me with all the pheromone-like biological power of a wild sex act, it would be noir or hard-boiled mystery. It’s not only the black and whiteness of the genre, the good versus evil, the shadows that paint themselves on the sides of concrete and glass buildings and always with the consciousness of the death that is surely lurking right around the corner. It’s not the sex or the existentialism of waking up alone and hung over in a warehouse loft apartment located in the now abandoned port of Albany. What attracts me to the genre always is one man (or woman) who is up against it all and has no bloody choice but to try and dig his way out of it. It is using violence as a means towards an end. Violence which in all cases is justified and, from an author’s point of view, as carefully choreographed as the ballet for Romeo and Juliet.
Someone once said that the only truly original American literature is the hard-boiled novel. This is of course debatable. But when a literary trailblazer like Ernest Hemingway comes up with noir classics such as To Have And Have Not, The Killers, and After The Storm, you know there must be some semblance of truth to it. It is a genre which is only now emerging from its infant years to something more mature and interesting. We now have vampire noir, historical noir, future/sci fi noir, and even Amish noir. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
I don’t snottily defend noir or tough guy fiction any more than I bite the nose off romance or literary writing. It is all literary to me, as it is all romantic. I validate its existence every time I complete a new novel featuring the likes of Jack “Keeper” Marconi (The Innocent) or Richard “Dick” Moonlight (Murder By Moonlight). Rather, the genre validates me as an American writer who is adding a chapter to a large and distinguished pantheon of writers which includes the publisher of this blog, Heath Lowrance, Dash Hammett, Robert B. Parker, Jim Crumley, Les Edgerton, Charlie Huston and so many, many more. I wish I could say that I will live long enough to read all the noir greats and greats-to-be. Who does? But I will continue to devour as much as I possibly can while I continue to write new noir novels like a man possessed.
And at the end of a long work day of writing a brand new chapter two-fingered style, a bottle of scotch to my right and a lit cig set on the ashtray on the other, only the light from the bare light bulb hanging over my head to illuminate the studio apartment, I will head out to the street. It will be cold and a light drizzle will coat my face while I light up a new cigarette with the business end of my zippo. I’ll pull up the collar on my leather coat and head for the corner gin mill. You know, the one with the electric sign thunder-bolted to the brick exterior that reads BAR in flashing red neon letters. I will be alone with thoughts filled with violence, sexy but dangerous women, and pure loneliness. The kind of loneliness that strikes at the core of your rib cage and leaves a pit in your empty stomach. But then, that’s the point isn’t it? And that’s the life of a noir writer.
Vincent Zandri is the author of the bestselling noir novels, The Innocent, Godchild, and The Remains. His new novels Moonlight Rises, Blue Moonlight and Murder By Moonlight will soon be published by Thomas and & Mercer. For more information on Vincent Zandri and all his novels, go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM