Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Story in Necrotic Tissue

My story "Emancipation, With Teeth" is in the brand new issue of Necrotic Tissue, just out. I'd be surprised if you can find it at your local magazine stand, but hey, you can always order it, right?
Pretty impressed with the look of Necrotic Tissue. It's put together really well, and at ten bucks is a good bargain. 125 pages in all, 17 stories. Good art on the cover.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Eight

The last ten or fifteen years have seen a real resurgence of talent in the noir world. 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 turks.

Jason Starr
A seriously formidable noir talent, and perhaps the purest noir writer around these days. He's been compared favorably to Thompson and Cain, but he strikes me as more Brett Easton Ellis-- if Ellis wrote darkly funny noir novels.

Hard Feelings
Nothing Personal
Cold Caller
Fake I.D.

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
Killer Year
The Dramatist
The Magdalen Martyrs

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

Allen Guthrie
Another 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

David 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, then sort of dropped out of sight until just recently, when his newest novel appeared in the small press—less a reflection on him as a writer than on the perilous state of publishing these days. His work is highly concerned with questions of morality and identity.

As Catch Can
Moonlight Falls

Megan Abbot is regarded as one of the best female writers of noir ever. She has an honest, incisive voice with shades of Woolrich and Goodis, taking noir conventions and turning them on their ear by giving them a new perspective. A major new talent.

Bury Me Deep
The Song is You
Die a Little

Christa Faust, a former stripper and fetish model, isn’t afraid to go to the dark places. Her style is sharp and fast and beautifully self-assured. She’s terrific.

Control Freak
Money Shot

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

Charlie Huston is another noir writer with a terrific imagination and a distinctive voice emerging from the world of comic book writing. 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 conflicted police officer during the Nazi regime. Brutal, thought-provoking stuff.

March Violets
The Pale Criminal
A German Requiem

Ray Banks is another brutal Scot talent:
The Big Blind
Saturday’s Child
Sucker Punch

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 resurgence of interest in noir has affected the varied world of comic books as well. Here are the three guys most noteworthy in the field:

Ed Brubaker
The man most responsible for proving that comics can transcend super-heroics and depict hardboiled/noir every bit as well as straight novels. He infused Batman and Catwoman with superior noir creds before turning to more traditional crime stories in graphic novel format.


Brian Azzarello
Another brilliant comic book writer, he’s heavily influenced by Jim Thompson and David Goodis, but his dialogue is pure Hammett. The new Vertigo Crime line of graphic novels kicked off with an Azzarello title.

Filthy Rich
Johnny Double
100 Bullets

Frank Miller
The third and final comic writer on our list. He’s inconsistent as a writer, but deserves recognition for the stunning and brutal series of Sin City graphic novels he wrote and drew.

Sin City
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Sin City: That Yellow Bastard

This 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. 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 just recently put out an old Gil Brewer. We readers of the genre owe all these small publishers, big-time.

So there you have it: a history of the genre we love in eight easy installments. Noir is a very loose term, of course; it’s always in flux, always changing. Even as it looks backward and gains inspiration from all that’s come before, it’s the most forward-thinking of all literary genres… okay, maybe science fiction looks forward even more, but you know what I mean. It changes. Just when you think you’ve got it defined, it grows out of its old threads and embraces new concerns.
One thing all great hardboiled/noir has in common, though, is its concern with the human condition and the darkest impulses in our souls. Because if we can’t acknowledge those things about ourselves, we can never tame them, right? As long as there are humans who wonder about their place in the world, and ponder the void, we’ll always have noir.

I owe a debt in writing this to various essays and commentary by Ed Gorman, Dave Zeltserman, and Bill Pronzini, as well as numerous other sources all over the web and in print.
If you have comments or suggestions (I’ve probably neglected about a hundred great writers!) feel free to contact me at heathlowrance@gmail.com.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Seven

--Into the Modern--

Hardboiled/Noir never really went away. Although the Golden era ended in the early ‘60’s, there were still plenty of writers who loved the form too much to let it die, and many of them made lasting contributions and continued to add amazing diversity and vision.
The hardboiled school, especially, thrived in its own way through the seventies and eighties. There were many great detective writers in that period—some more hardboiled than others—and by the mid-eighties a small renaissance had taken place.
The Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald continued to sell well, and McGee’s sensitivity (so at odds with earlier tough guys) rubbed off on his contemporaries. Robert Parker’s books about Boston P.I. Spenser took the genre in a new direction, featuring a hero who loved literature and philosophy, respected women, and used violence only as a last resort.
Female writers of detective fiction began having a serious impact. Sue Grafton and her protagonist Kinsey Millhone hit the bestseller charts with A is for Alibi and a whole alphabet of mysteries after; Sara Paretsky broke sales records with her series about female private dick V.I. Warshawski, starting with Indemnity Only.
But while these developments were a good sign for society as a whole, it’s debatable whether or not the new sensitivity was good for the soul of noir. The thing that defined the genre had always been a sort of disaffection, a—dare I say it?—existential angst.
But even when it looked as if the hardboiled world might suddenly go softboiled, there were still writers of vision down there in the trenches, dredging up all sorts of savory ugliness. Here’s a few of the most noteworthy:

James Crumley proved hugely influential on the detective story writers who came after him with his books about alcoholic dick C.W. Shugrue, and another brief series about a character called Milo Milodragovitch. Here’s a few to start:
The Last Good Kiss
The Mexican Tree Duck
The Wrong Case
The Dancing Bear

Bill Pronzini is mostly known for his terrific series about the Nameless Detective (who first appeared in 1971), Pronzini is also a noted scholar of the hardboiled school and a terrific editor. Fortunately for us, he’s still writing tight, solid hardboiled masterpieces. Here’s the last few by him:

Joe Gores: Like Hammett before him, Gores turned a brief career as a P.I. into a convincing career as a detective story writer. He’s mostly famous for his D.K.A. series, but also for the screenplay to the movie “Hammett”.
Spade & Archer: a Prequel to The Maltese Falcon
Glass Tiger
Cons, Scams & Grifts

Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books are my favorite P.I. novels, although Scudder isn’t strictly a P.I. They are intense, bleak, and tightly plotted, and Scudder is one of the more intriguingly damaged protagonists you’ll ever read about. Block’s career began in the early ‘60’s with a series of terrific noirs, but he really hit his stride in the mid-seventies with the Scudder books. Try the first few.
Time to Murder and Create
The Sins of the Fathers
Out on the Cutting Edge
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes
In the Midst of Death
A Stab in the Dark

Ed Gorman is a treasure; one of those old-school workhorses who seldom lands a foot wrong in his plotting and pacing. His books are models of what solid detective fiction should look like, especially his series about Jack Dwyer. A sampling:
Grave’s Retreat
The Poker Club
Rough Cut
Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Loren Estleman: You'd think the whole "private dick" thing would be totally played out by now, but Estleman infuses it with new life every time while maintaining its best traditions. Maybe I’m biased, being a Detroit guy, but Estleman’s Amos Walker novels are sharply observant, funny, and paced faster than a Detroit freeway. He’s also penned a terrific series of crime thrillers taking place in various eras of Detroit’s history. Here’s a random sampling:
Motor City Blue
Every Brilliant Eye
Poison Blonde
Nicotine Kiss
American Detective
Whiskey River

Max Allan Collins is most notable for his Nate Heller series of P.I. mysteries. What makes these books worth reading, aside from Collins dead-on voice and great plotting, are the fact-based historical twentieth-century murders each novel is built around. Apparently, Heller was around for every major crime committed in the 20th Century. Try these:
Angel in Black
Dying in the Postwar World
True Crime
True Detective
The Million Dollar Wound

Walter Mosley started his writing career with a terrific run of books about Easy Rawlins, a black P.I. in the L.A. of the 1950’s. Very noir, with writing as rich and evocative as Chandler or Ross MacDonald.
A Read Death
White Butterfly
Black Betty
Little Yellow Dog
Devil in a Blue Dress

James Ellroy once referred to himself as the ‘greatest crime writer who ever lived’. Well, not quite, but pretty close. His first few books, at least, are benchmarks in the genre—humorless, bleak, violent and cynical. Also, amazingly well written.
L.A. Confidential
The Big Nowhere
Killer on the Road
Brown’s Requiem
The Black Dahlia

James Lee Burke’s novels about Dave Robiecheux are densely plotted and the language is lush and Faulknerian. Burke's books occasionally suffer from 'sprawl', but Robiecheux is a great example of a deeply flawed hero, trying to deal with his inner demons while tracking down the bad guys.
Black Cherry Blues
A Morning for Flamingoes
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead
A Stained White Radiance
Crusader’s Cross

Andrew Vachss writes what is perhaps the most brutal ongoing series in the genre these days, the novels about the obsessed Burke. Stark and focused. Vachss is an outspoken advocate for abused children. His non-Burke novel “The Getaway Man” is one of the purest modern noirs you’ll ever read.
Blue Belle
Hard Candy
The Getaway Man

John Connelly made a big splash with his first novels about Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, an ex-cop haunted by the brutal slayings of his wife and daughter. Like James Lee Burke, Connelly’s books are sometimes too long, but his voice as an author is layered and colorful, and the crime thriller backdrop is sometimes shot through with a strange dose of the supernatural.
Every Dead Thing
Dark Hollow
The Killing Kind
The White Road

I don’t need to tell you about Elmore Leonard, do I? Amazingly prolific and one of the finest writers working today. Much has already been said about his dead-on dialogue and seedy characters. To list all his great books would take pages, but here's just a sample.
The Hot Kid
Riding The Rap
Out of Sight
Pagan Babies
Toshimingo Blues
Maximum Bob

Joe R. Lansdale is, quite simply, the man. His style is distinctly Texas Noir, wry and funny and dark. He writes wonderfully in multiple genres, but when he ventures into noir territory, he’s especially awesome. Lansdale is a good reason not to kill yourself. Here are a few gems:
Savage Season
Cold in July
Mucho Mojo
The Two-Bear Mambo
The Bottoms
Sunset And Sawdust

Lee Child is most notable for his series featuring tough hero and force of nature, Jack Reacher. Like many other modern suspense writers, Child has a tendency to go longer than the story can maintain, but his books are more violent and intense than most series characters these days. Very hardboiled.
The Killing Floor
The Enemy
One Shot
The Hard Way

Ian Rankin has been called the master of ‘Tartan Noir’—which goes to show you that the media loves a silly label. Regardless, his novels about Inspector Rebus are very well-written and relentlessly bleak.
Knots & Crosses
Hide & Seek
Tooth & Nail
Strip Jack
The Black Book
Mortal Causes

Surprisingly, one of the best writers of tough-minded noir these days is seldom if ever marketed as such. Cormac McCarthy isn’t the first name you think of when you think of the genre, but his books are tight, spare, and punctuated with sharp and unexpected doses of violence. Amazing stuff.
No Country for Old Men
Blood Meridian
The Road
The Crossing

Next time: Wrapping up with the New Noir...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Six

--Espionage Noir--

Novels of espionage aren’t always of the James Bond variety. In the post-war years and throughout the Cold War, several great writers of spy stories emerged and made their very distinctive marks on the hardboiled/noir school. Many of them were British, but it wasn’t long before the Americans got into the game as well. Here are some of the best espionage noir writers of the last fifty years:

Graham Greene’s high tension stories were excellent examples of international noir, filled with intrigue, double-crossing, and central characters in way over their heads.
Orient Express
This Gun for Hire
Confidential Agent
Ministry of Fear
The Third Man
Our Man in Havana

Eric Ambler’s work was atmospheric and tense, with protagonists that would find themselves unwittingly involved in events bigger than themselves, and struggling to get free—or at least figure out what the hell was going on.
Epitaph For a Spy
A Coffin for Dimitrios
Cause for Alarm
Journey Into Fear

Geoffrey Household wrote what is now considered the classic man-on-the-run story.
Rogue Male

John le Carre. Some readers and critics consider him as perhaps the greatest espionage novelist of all time (debatable). But le Carre did indeed write bold, cynical and compelling stories that rang with an authenticity lacking in Fleming’s work. The George Smiley cycle of novels is well worth reading, but start with these non-Smiley ventures.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Looking-Glass War

Adam Hall straddled the line between the stark realism of le Carre and the outrageous adventure of Fleming. His novels about British secret agent Quiller are fast-paced, cynical in the best noir tradition, and wildly unpredictable.

The Quiller Memorandum
The Ninth Directive
The Striker Portfolio
The Warsaw Document
The Tango Briefing
The Mandarin Cypher
The Sinkiang Executive

Len Deighton has been called the “anti-Fleming”, because his protagonists are so diametrically opposed to Bond. The nameless narrator of Deighton’s earliest thrillers (called ‘Harry Palmer’ in the film adaptations) is a bitter, burnt-out ex-criminal forced into working for the British government. Terrific international noir.
The Ipcress File
Funeral in Berlin
The Billion Dollar Brain

Donald Hamilton. Forget the goofy movies with Dean Martin; the Matt Helm series of espionage novels were top-notch, exciting and remarkably well-written.

Death of a Citizen
The Wrecking Crew
The Removers
The Silencers
Murderer’s Row

Edward S. Aarons wrote straight noir crime stories in the early ‘50’s before turning his attention to espionage with the classic “Assignment” series featuring Cajun secret agent Sam Durrell. Highly believable, action-packed. Here are just a handful:
Assignment to Disaster
Assignment: Suicide
Assignment: Treason
Assignment: Stella Marni

Alan Furst
Furst is every bit in the best tradition of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, writing moody and evocative spy stories invariably set against the backdrop of WWII-era Europe. Beautifully written, fog-shrouded, and as purely noir as anything going today.

Night Soldiers
Dark Star
The World at Night
Red Gold
Kingdom of Shadows
The Polish Officer

Furst is a modern writer, which leads us very nicely into the world of modern noir… next time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Five

Noir was a boy’s club, for the most part. 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
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
The Blunderer
Deep Water
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

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.
Obit Delayed
Stranger in the Dark
The Crime is Murder
False Witness

Here are some of the other great talents that emerged in the Golden Age of Noir:

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.
The Amboy Dukes
Cry Tough
The Square Trap

Nelson Algren. More famous now as a left-wing activist (and so many noir writers were), but he wrote at least once book that qualifies him for this list.
The Man with the Golden Arm

Budd Schulberg. He was mostly known as a screenwriter during Hollywood’s Golden Age; he was also a terrific writer of lean, spare noir-fused literature.
--What Makes Sammy Run?

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, the third, 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.
Black Wings Has My Angel

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, who passed away just recently, 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 a few of the earlier ones.
The Hunter
The Man with the Getaway Face
The Outfit
The Mourner
The Score
The Jugger
The Seventh
The Handle
The Rare Coin Score
Deadly Edge

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Four

A whole slew of private detective heroes emerged in the wake of the Mickey Spillane phenomenon of the 1950’s, and even the ones who’d been around earlier enjoyed renewed success.
Brett Halliday’s series about Mike Shayne is noteworthy— first of all, there were tons of them. Halliday has been writing Shayne’s adventures all through the 1940’s, but the surge of interest in P.I. novels that came on the wake of Spillane’s success lent the series new life. While the plots were often interchangeable, they were all solid and remarkably well-written. As a character, Mike Shayne wasn’t given to too much introspection, and Halliday wasn’t big on social commentary—Shayne has been called the “generic private dick”. But for all that, the Mike Shayne novels were never boring. The movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was based loosely on Halliday’s novel “Bodies are Where You Find Them”.
Here’s a sampling:
Dividend on Death
Bodies are Where You Find Them
The Corpse Came Calling
Murder is My Business
She Woke to Darkness
Death Has Three Lives
Stranger in Town
Shoot the Works

In the part of town where the sun still shone, there were the light-hearted novels of Shell Scott, by Richard S. Prather. Scott was, in many ways, the ‘anti-Hammer’—funny, good-natured, and with an appreciative eye for the ladies. As a character, Shell Scott was a likeable rogue with an easy grin and a solid sense of humor, and his books are diverting and fun.
Case of the Vanishing Beauty
Everybody Had a Gun
Always Leave ‘em Dying
The Wailing Frail
Three’s a Shroud

However, the most significant writer of P.I. novels to emerge in the ‘50’s (sales notwithstanding) was Ross MacDonald. His books about Lew Archer came closer than anyone before him to perfecting the sub-genre and honing it to a razor-sharp edge. He’s regarded these days as the true heir to Chandler, keeping the torch lit for the lyrical hardboiled style. As the series progressed, Archer mellowed, and so did the books. But the early adventures were tough-minded and violent, all the while maintaining a curious sense of melancholy and insightfulness. He was a more consistent writer than Chandler, and the scope of his literary concerns was just as all-encompassing.

The Dark Tunnel
Trouble Follows Me
Blue City
The Three Roads
The Moving Target
The Drowning Pool
The Way Some People Die
The Ivory Grin
Meet Me at the Morgue
Find a Victim
The Name is Archer
The Barbarous Coast
The Doomsters
So the private eye novel was riding high; that didn’t mean there weren’t readers interested in the other side of the fence. The publishers of paperback originals were ready to give ‘em what they wanted, with a whole slew of immensely talented writers who were expert at mining the materials of crime, deceit, and avarice to bring out the leanest, meanest novels imaginable.
Today, Gold Medal Books is regarded as the greatest of all the paperback original publishers, and with good reason. Others, like Dell, Ace, and Bantam, were all putting out solid noir stuff, but Gold Medal was the undisputed king of the genre, and the one most writers—and readers—of the time chose first. To give detailed bios of every single one of them would take far more room than I have here, but the stable of writers who graced Gold Medal reads like a who’s who of all-time great practicioners of the art. Here’s a brief run-down:

One of the greatest was Wade Miller, although “he” was a “they”—Robert Wade and Bill Miller. In a very short period of time, they wrote a handful of really great noirs under the “Miller” byline, and were among Gold Medal’s best-selling writers.

Deadly Weapon
Kitten with a Whip
Branded Woman
Murder Charge
The Killer
Devil on Two Sticks

Steve Fisher was a writer who eventually made his way to Hollywood and started writing screenplays. Well into the 1970’s, he wrote for a variety of TV cop shows. His early novels, though hard to find now, are worth seeking out.

I Wake Up Screaming
The Hell-Black Night
Saxon’s Ghost

Charles Williams was one of a handful of writers who helped define what noir meant in the 1950’s, and is regarded now as essential. Fast-paced, stylistically dead-on, and dark, with some seriously messed-up characters.

River Girl
Hell Hath No Fury
A Touch of Death
Man on the Run
The Long Saturday Night

Gil Brewer’s amazingly tragic life seemed to fuel a talent that was staggering. Recently, several different small publishers have re-discovered Brewer and put out affordable re-prints. Do yourself and favor and buy them.

The Vengeful Virgin
Nude On Thin Ice
Wild to Possess
A Taste of Sin
A Devil for O'Shaugnessy
The Three-Way Split

Day Keene, one of the all-time greats, this guy.
Joy House
Home is the Sailor

Lionel White’s novel Clean Break was the basis for the terrific early Kubrick movie, The Killing.

To Find a Killer
Clean Break

Later in his career, Charles Willeford would create Miami P.I. Hoke Mosley, but his early non-series novels were pure psycho noir at its bleakest, funniest, and most disturbing. Black Mass of Brother Springer, especially, is worth seeking out.

Wild Wives
High Priest of California
Black Mass of Brother Springer (aka, Honey Gal)
The Burnt-Orange Heresy

Peter Rabe: Some of his work has appeared again in recent years, thanks to Stark House and Hard Case Crime. Always unpredictable, always entertaining.

Stop This Man!
A House in Naples
Kill the Boss Goodbye
A Shroud for Jesso
Murder Me for Nickels

Robert Edmond Altar
These two by Altar are noteworthy because of their ‘strange factor’. Bizarro characters and an almost Southern Gothic flavor of psycho noir. Black Lizard reprinted them in the mid-80's. Good luck finding them now.

Carny Kill
Swamp Sister

Dan J. Marlowe
He came to the world of writing fiction late in his life, but in a short period of time managed to hit impressive numbers—both in the number of quality books he wrote and in number of sales, usually for Gold Medal Books. “The Name of the Game is Death” is considered one of the greatest noirs of all time.

The Name of the Game is Death
The Vengeance Man
Never Live Twice

Fredric Brown is known primarily as a science-fiction writer, but in the ‘50’s he wrote a handful of very highly-regarded noirs that were experimental in nature and existential in philosophy.
The Fabulous Clipjoint
The Screaming Mimi
The Far Cry
The Lenient Beast
Here Comes a Candle

Harry Whittington
They called him the "King of the Paperbacks", and with good reason. The guy wrote something like 180 books in about ten years, almost all of them distinctive for having as a protagonist a 'decent fella' on the run and facing overwhelming odds.

A Night For Screaming
The Devil Wears Wings
Web of Murder
Any Woman He Wanted

Chester Himes
Hardboiled Harlem noir. Himes was the first black writer to make real headway in the genre with his tight and tough novels about Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. Great stuff.

If He Hollers, Let Him Go
The End of the Primitive
The Real Cool Killers
Cotton Comes to Harlem

Jim Thompson is the Golden Boy of Psycho Noir. Funny and sad how he died in penniless obscurity, but is now regarded as THE writer of noir in the 1950’s; his books capture better than any one else’s the world of the sociopath faced with obstacles he’ll stop at nothing to overcome, and the inevitable spiral out of control. His novels were bleakly comedic sometimes, always weird, and even the mediocre ones were never boring.
Now and On Earth
Heed the Thunder
Nothing More Than Murder
The Killer Inside Me
Cropper’s Cabin
The Criminal
Bad Boy
The Alcoholics
A Swell-Looking Babe
The Grifters
Savage Night
The Golden Gizmo
A Hell of a Woman
The Nothing Man
After Dark, My Sweet
The Kill-Off
The Getaway
Wild Town
Pop. 1280

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
The Damned
Dead Low Tide
The Neon Jungle
Cancel All Our Vows
All Those Condemned
A Bullet for Cinderella
Cry Hard, Cry Fast
April Evil
Death Trap
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.

Shield For Murder
The Big Heat
Rogue Cop

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)
Cop Hater
The Mugger
The Pusher
The Con Man
King’s Ransom

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Three

The late ‘30’s and the ‘40’s didn’t offer much new in the hardboiled/noir world. There were plenty of solid writers, but there wasn’t much fresh on the market and it seemed that the Golden Age of creativity in the genre was over.
Not that the ‘40’s were completely devoid of anything noteworthy-- John Latimer wrote a book that really shook things up dramatically. He’s mostly remembered now for his more comic-oriented crime novels, but in 1941 he wrote what many consider to be one of the most brutal hard-boiled novels of all time, the hard-to-find Solomon’s Vineyard. This novel was censored and decried and condemned, and the unexpurgated version never saw print until the 1980’s.
--Solomon’s Vineyard

But for the most part it was rough-going for readers of hardboiled/noir. The steady decline of the pulp magazine market didn’t help things. It had been going downhill for some time. The interest in crime stories that dominated the magazine stands in the ‘20’s gave way in the ‘30’s to action heroes like Doc Savage, The Shadow, and the Spider. And by the end of the decade, even those were suffering from poor sales.
But it was the emergence of this new thing called ‘paperback books’ that really sounded the death knell of the pulp magazine. New printing technology made binding books between stiff covers affordable. At first, publishers concentrated on ‘classic lit’ or mainstream fiction, but it didn’t take long for some savvy publishers to realize the true potential of the paperback original.
It took awhile for everything to gel, but right from the start the idea of a book printed in a cheap, easy to handle format was a huge success. During World War II, paperback books were popular with soldiers—they were convenient, could fit easily in a pocket or knapsack, and were considerably more resilient than a magazine. The industry continued to grow after the war, when the idea of paperback originals first took hold.
By the early 1950’s, publishers like Gold Medal Books had staked out a considerable territory and in the process created a whole new type of publishing. It was the beginning of the second Golden Age of hardboiled/noir.

The secret to success for the paperback originals was a sort of formula: first, you start with a very lurid cover—something they learned from the pulp magazines before them. A rough-looking guy with a gun, maybe, or someone slamming a fist into someone else’s face. Better yet, a woman—the less she’s wearing, the better—giving some thug the eye, being seductive and sexy. Even if the cover image had next to nothing to do with the story within, it was essential to grab the attention of the young men who were the target market. It was a technique so successful they even applied it to the covers of more literary fiction: the cover of Bantam’s 1949 edition of W. Somerset Maugham’s Stranger in Paradise shows a shapely woman seductively letting her dressing gown fall to her hips in the presence of a somewhat laconic-looking young man.
The second part of the formula was of course the story. The paperback originals had to have solid plots, lots of action, some sex (though not as much as the covers suggested), and pitch-perfect pacing. No time for character introspection that lasted more than a paragraph. No time for lengthy detailed descriptions of places and things. The best writers of the paperback originals were masters at sketching images in the reader’s minds, giving them the essentials and keeping the story rolling along like a sleek roadster.

It was a time of transition for the writers trying to make a buck, and some of them adjusted to the cross-over better than others.
One of the most successful of these was the masterly Cornell Woolrich. He had a solid career in the pulps, and many of his stories were translated for the big screen. When pulps gave way to paperbacks, he shifted gears and enjoyed renewed popularity as both Woolrich and William Irish.
Woolrich didn’t write in that lean, spare style that we’ve come to associate with noir and hard-boiled; his prose was rich and full, brimming over sometimes with melodrama that, to a modern reader, can be occasionally tiresome. But for all that, not too many writers could match him for ratcheting up tension, creating almost palpable dread, and making sure the reader kept those pages turning to see what awful thing was going to happen next.
He was also one of the first writers in the genre to give us stories from a female point of view. In fact, most of his best stories are tales of women driven to murder to protect their honor or to avenge the death of a loved one. Most notably, his so-called “Black Trilogy”.
There’s been speculation that Woolrich was a closest homosexual, and that he suffered from depression and bouts of alcohol-fueled self-loathing. Reading his work, you wouldn’t find these speculations surprising. The world he writes about is a dark, untrustworthy place. Woolrich is essential noir. Here are some of his best titles:
--The Bride Wore Black
--The Black Curtain
--Phantom Lady
--Black Alibi
--The Black Angel
--Black Path of Fear
--The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
--Rendezvous in Black
--I Married a Dead Man
--Savage Bride

David Goodis was the other notable writer who shifted well from pulp to paperback, although many critics think that his work suffered throughout the fifties. It’s true that, as early as 1947, Goodis seemed destined for mainstream success with his novel Retreat from Oblivion. But by the beginning of the new decade it seems that, for some reason, he opted for a sort of anonymousness by writing paperback originals and keeping a low public profile. Mainstream success didn’t elude him; he eluded it.
To some degree, his subject matter reflected what we’ve come to believe about his own life. Goodis wrote about the losers, men who had fallen from grace due to circumstance or their own poor choices. His novels were dark and pessimistic and grim, without an ounce of humor. Bleak stuff, and highly recommended for a serious dose of noir.

--Retreat from Oblivion
--Dark Passage
--Of Missing Persons
--Cassidy’s Girl
--Street of the Lost
--The Burglar
--Moon in the Gutter
--The Wounded and the Slain
--Black Friday
--Street of No Return
--Shoot the Piano Player (aka, Down There)

So the death of the pulps didn’t always have to mean the end of careers. Several other writers of varying talent made the switch, while still writing for the handful of pulps that still existed. However, by the mid-fifties a whole new crop of amazing young writers had premiered, and the face of crime fiction altered, shifted subtly into a thing of more sophistication that the old pulp writers could ever have imagined.

By far, the most popular writer in the genre in the 1950’s was Mickey Spillane.
Love him or hate him, Spillane was hugely important in the history of hardboiled. His novels about Mike Hammer were ultra-violent, misanthropic, and unapologetically nasty. As a protagonist, Hammer was a raging, hateful creature of vengeance, driven by some peculiar code of honor that only he seemed capable of abiding. I personally find it easier to read Hammer’s adventures if I don’t think of him as a hero—he works better as a borderline psychopath.

I, the Jury
My Gun is Quick
Vengeance is Mine
One Lonely Night
The Big Kill
The Long Wait
Kiss Me, Deadly

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"I must write. If I stop writing, my life will have been an abject failure. It is that already to other people. But it could be an abject failure to myself. I will not have earned death." -Jean Rhys

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part Two

Mentioning James M. Cain in direct reference to the other Gods of the Trinity is especially inaccurate; Cain didn’t write about detectives, and he certainly didn’t write about characters of high moral standing. In that regard, he was one of the first writers that we can actually call noir.
Chandler hated him. He thought Cain was a filthy pervert, celebrating everything indecent about humanity. To some extent he was right. But what Chandler failed to see was that Cain understood the darkness in our souls, the lengths humans are willing to go to in order to avoid their own doom, and the knowledge that it was futile anyway; we are all doomed, and every step we take to change that brings us that much closer to the end.
Cain was a poet of entropy, and from his novels came noir, fully formed. The hapless protagonist, lured by sex, the manipulative femme fatale, the raw sexuality, the violence, and the wicked plan that’s doomed from the start. Reading his novels—especially the first two—gives the reader a crash course in noir that covers all the basics.
--Double Indemnity
--The Postman Always Rings Twice
--Root of His Evil
--The Embezzler
--Mildred Pierce
--Love’s Lonely Counterfeit

Albert Camus is quoted as saying his novel The Stranger was inspired in part by Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. So what’s the difference between noir and existential? You tell me. I believe The Stranger more than qualifies as noir.

A contemporary of Hammett, Chandler and Cain’s was the remarkable W.R. Burnett. He too brought something new to the hardboiled table, something midway between Chandler and Cain—instead of focusing on the detective-hero or the hapless sucker, his central characters were usually straight-up bad guys: gangsters, thieves, etcetera. He was hugely popular for awhile, especially in the ‘30’s when Americans began to glamorize the crooks of Prohibition and the roaming bank robbers like John Dillinger. Burnett’s timing couldn’t have been better. Of course, the bad guy heroes of his stories always paid the piper at the end. Noir hadn’t developed so much that the bad guy could get away with his crimes—that development was a couple of decades away.
--Little Caesar
--Iron Man
--Dark Hazard
--High Sierra
--The Asphalt Jungle
--Nobody Lives Forever

There were other writers who don’t get referenced as often as Hammett, Chandler, Cain or even Burnett who still made important contributions and added their own particular ingredients to the ever more diversified genre of hardboiled/noir.
One of the greatest and most underappreciated was Horace McCoy, who wrote what is perhaps the most grueling noir of the ‘30’s, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? There are no private dicks here, or gangsters or even hapless sex-slaves. It takes place during a brutal dance marathon—a popular past-time of the era—and uses the marathon as a perfect metaphor for the unrelenting cruelty of existence. It’s a harsh, uncompromising book. His others were almost as good.
--They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
--No Pockets on a Shroud
--Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
--I Should’ve Stayed Home

Eric Knight, writing under the name Paul Hallas, gave us one notable book that has taken on a sort of Holy Grail-like quality. It’s highly-regarded by fans of noir but is rarely read these days—in fact, since the decades since its first appearance it’s been out of print most of the time. Black Lizard was the last to reprint it, back in the ‘80’s. But its well-worth searching out.
--You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up

Paul Cain is another lost master of noir. He wrote a handful of short stories, collected later into one volume, and one novel that Raymond Chandler called “some kind of high-water mark in hardboiled”. Fortunately, his meager output is still available in an omnibus edition.
--Fast One
--Seven Slayers

And Raoul Whitfield deserves to be mentioned for a number of reasons: he was one of Black Mask’s most prolific contributors for awhile, he created the first Filipino detective hero (Jo Gar), and his stories about ex-convict Mel Ourney became the highly-regarded novel…
--Green Ice

There were hundreds of other writers who plied their trade in the pulp magazines throughout the ‘20’s and early ‘30’s, obviously—names that are mostly lost to us now, stories that no one will ever read again. Some of them deserved a bigger audience; most of them didn’t. Fortunately, the decades since the pulp magazine explosion have mostly seen the cream rise to the top. It was an amazing time, though. With the profusion of magazines on the stands—there were literally hundreds of them—a professional writer with a little talent and a lot of dedication could eke out a living for himself, and if he was lucky, leave behind some sort of small legacy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hardboiled/Noir: The Writers Part One

Tough guys. Dangerous dames. Hapless losers. Psychopathic villains. Racetracks, seedy bars, swank nightclubs. Crooked cops and crumbling tenement houses.
Welcome to the underbelly: the dark, cynical heart of the American dream. This is the City of Hardboiled, the neighborhood of Noir. It’s a great place to visit, but… well, you know the drill.
This is a particularly American place, even though in recent years it’s managed to export itself around the world, taking root in England and France, Mexico and Algiers, even Norway if you can believe it. Seems that there’s plenty of existential angst to go around in this world. But the source of the virus is the States, no question. That’s where the infections first occurred, that’s where the buildings first went up and the private dick had his first shot of whisky and the grifter made his first score.
It’s hard to say where it all started, this school of hardboiled lyricism and noir dread. If you wanted to get really deep about it, you could say it started with Mark Twain, the first American writer to use a distinctly American voice. Ernest Hemingway noted that all American literature comes from one book, Huckleberry Finn, and yeah, he’s pretty much right. But maybe we’re putting too fine a point on it.
As early as the 1890’s, Twain not withstanding, we had action-packed stories of two-fisted heroes, knocking the crap out of Victorian-style villains and rescuing damsels—Nick Carter was probably the first (or at least the most successful) of these cardboard cut-out heroes. He appeared in tons of cheap chapbooks, circulated all over the country and mostly reserved for the newly-literate masses, who were, let’s face it, not particularly sophisticated in their reading habits.
But really, there’s nothing hardboiled or noir about those stories. They’re totally prelude.
Those chapbooks led to the great magazine boom of the early 20th century, and that’s really where things get rolling. In the early days, fiction magazines were general interest—they’d have, say, a western story, a detective thriller, a story of high seas adventure, etcetera. But by the early ‘20’s most of them had become more specialized. By far, the best-selling magazines were of the ‘detective’ variety.
Dime Detective. Thrilling Detective. Spicy Detective Stories. There were tons of them.
The king of detective magazines, though, was Black Mask, and that’s where the hardboiled style first emerged.
But we still haven’t defined our terms. Hardboiled and noir are not really the same thing, even though they often go hand-in-hand. A story can be hardboiled without having a trace of noir, and vice-versa.
Hardboiled came first, in those unsettled and uncertain times between the two world wars. It’s a genre defined by it’s rejection of sentiment. It portrays crime and violence in a stark, unromantic light. You could say “realism”, but that’s not really true—in most hardboiled stories, there isn’t much realism to speak of. It’s more of a “hyper-realism”, a distorted representation of the world that feels real while you’re immersed in it, that feels like the world you’re most afraid of.
Hardboiled stories usually feature a detective hero—not always, but often enough that you notice it when they don’t. This detective hero is usually every bit as tough as the villains he comes across, and he’s almost always the wittiest guy in the room. He’s cool. Cocky, even. You wish you were as cool as this guy.
Noir eventually popped out of the skull of hardboiled, fully formed. It’s basically a sort of role-reversal of protagonists—the central character in a noir isn’t usually the “knight in tarnished armor”-type; he’s the lowlife the knight is trying to nail.
Noir implies a certain dark tone, cynical, fatalistic, with a particular sort of cast of characters—generally people on the fringe of normal society, doing things you could only politely describe as anti-social. There is invariably a sense of impending doom, as a protagonist fights—or doesn’t fight—against an end that is, really, inevitable. Life sucks and then you die, that sort of thing. Granted, that’s a broad definition, and it doesn’t take into account about a ton of other things that come to mind when you think of “noir”, but that’s the general idea.
But you know, there are even finer distinctions these days. In recent years, the term “psycho-noir” gets thrown around quite a bit. Obviously, it’s a further refinement of noir, but its definition is a little trickier. David Zelsterman, the author of Small Crimes, wrote that “psycho-noir” is the type of story…

"...where the protagonists perceptions and rationalizations are just off center enough to send them to hell."

I think the main difference between “noir” and “psycho-noir” lies in the central protagonist. In “noir”, it’s usually a normal kind of joe, maybe a bit too ambitious or a bit too flip about right and wrong, who’s drawn into a messed-up situation by circumstance or by his own hubris. He may wind up doing monstrous things, but he’s basically a decent guy who manages to fuck up royally.
The main character in a “psycho-noir”, on the other hand, is usually a monstrous person to begin with. Perhaps he’s an amoral sociopath, like Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. In some cases, like Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, he’s a full-on delusional lunatic. The main thing is, he’s a bad guy, and not a bad guy who’s really a good guy deep inside, or is simply “misunderstood”. No, he’s the full-on villain, and the story belongs to him, and if it’s done right you still kinda want him to win.
These can be really small distinctions, of course. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find that point where “hardboiled” becomes “noir”, or where “noir” becomes “psycho-noir”, and honestly a good crime story is just a good crime story regardless, because of the elements that they have in common. And what are those? The writer Jack Bludis sums it up as neatly as anything I’ve heard:

None of this happened in a vacuum, of course. It’s not as if every other writer in America between the two world wars was writing beautiful, shining monuments to happiness and optimism. Hardboiled/noir grew out of a general feeling of dissatisfaction and alienation that was reflected in the work of more mainstream or critically respected authors as well. Ernest Hemingway developed his lean, spare style of writing as a response against the excesses of his literary contemporaries, an excess he felt obscured more than illuminated. He wrote about tough men, usually, doing tough things, just like the writers of hardboiled/noir, and also like them his cynicism and despair over the human condition shined through his work.
Hemingway and Hammett are often compared. The styles they employed were similar, and some critics have accused Hammett of stealing Hemingway’s lean style outright. This is patently untrue: Hammett actually came first, in the pages of Black Mask, in 1923. Hemingway’s first book wasn’t released in the States until two years later. Not that Hemingway stole from Hammett—he certainly did not. It must have been something in the water, or maybe they drank the same brand of whisky.
Regardless, Hemingway is significant in the development of the hardboiled school. His short stories are especially relevant, and the novels A Farwell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls all show the same attitude about the world and humanity that are displayed in the genre writers.
A few years later, John Steinbeck, too, would be easily linked to the hardboiled movement with his grim novels of Depression-era America: Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and The Grapes of Wrath.
William Faulkner was a huge fan of hardboiled and noir, and it shows in many of his books, most notably Pylon, Sanctuary, A Light in August, and the darkly comic As I Lay Dying.

But let’s be real. As significant as those books are, they aren’t really hardboiled/noir, despite their influence on and influence by genre fiction. They merely serve to illustrate how hardboiled/noir didn’t spring up out of nowhere.
The first hardboiled detective story is usually credited to a guy named Carroll John Daly, which is unfortunate because Daly was kind of a lousy writer. But he more or less invented the hardboiled detective with his character Terry Mack, in the May 1923 issue of Black Mask.
The story was called “Three Gun Terry”, and it wasn’t too much different than the old Nick Carter stories except that the hero was every bit the nasty equal of his nemesis. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty; he knew the streets, he knew the lingo, he was a wise-ass and a bad-ass, and the readers of Black Mask fell immediately in love with him.
Daly also created the character Race Williams just a couple of months later in the story “Knights of the Open Palm”; Race was pretty much the same thing as Terry Mack but soared to even greater heights of fame amongst Black Mask readers.
The stories that Daly wrote were invariably cookie-cutter stuff, predictable, violent, low-brow. If you stalk the used bookstores or E-bay, you might be able to find paperback editions of the stuff he wrote for Black Mask, like The Hidden Hand or The Tag Murders. They don’t stand up well now, and even then more sophisticated readers rightfully dismissed him and this new unpleasant style of detective story that seemed to cater to the lowest common denominator.
And yet, in a 1930 poll, Black Mask readers voted Daly their favorite. Dashiell Hammett was a distant second. Fortunately, time has rectified that misjudgment.

Dashiell Hammett’s first story of the Continental Op appeared in Black Mask in the October 1923 issue, only months after Daly’s first Race Williams story, and signified a serious change in the demeanor of hardboiled. The most significant difference between Hammett and his hardboiled predecessor was a simple one: Hammett could write. He could really write. He used short, declarative sentences, designed for maximum effect; he didn’t spend much time inside the head of his protagonist; he concentrated on keeping the story moving, and practically invented the idea of “real time” action. Hammett was a revelation.
Every hardboiled detective since the Op owes its existence to Hammett. He transformed what might have turned out to be a literary fad into a genuine movement that’s still going strong today, and redefined what we think of as the “American voice” in fiction.
Hammett brought to the table his experiences as a private detective for the Pinkerton agency, and that experience colored all his work, but especially the stories of the Op. Later, he would create the memorable Sam Spade in a series of stories and the novel The Maltese Falcon, but for me it’s all about the Continental Op—short, mulish, fat, and totally dedicated to the job. The Op is a relentless, unstoppable force that has no existence outside his job. He’s incorruptible not because it would be immoral to break his own rules but because it would be unprofessional.
Hammett’s work has never been out of print in the States, and if you’re new to the genre there’s no excuse not to start with the source. He wasn’t amazingly prolific. He wrote all of his great work in a short ten year period, and in the last twenty years of his life didn’t write a single word that saw publication.
All of his books with the exception of The Thin Man were first serialized in Black Mask. They are:
--The Dain Curse
--Red Harvest
--The Maltese Falcon
--The Glass Key
--The Thin Man
…and his short stories are collected in these editions from Black Lizard/Vintage Crime:
--The Big Knockover
--The Continental Op
--Nightmare Town

The 1920’s and early ‘30’s were the Golden Age of the Hardboiled novel. Following in the wake of Hammett, hardboiled dicks started springing up all over the place. Most of them were pale imitations, adding nothing significant to the genre, but occasionally someone would come along with a fresh game and slap things around a little.
Fans of the detective story will often refer to the Holy Trinity of Hammett-Chandler-Cain, as if these three writers had anything in common. You’ve seen the reviews of every new detective novel, referring to this or that new writer as being “in the best tradition of Hammett, Chandler and Cain”. In reality, they couldn’t have been more different from one another, not only in style but in subject matter. It’s like saying, “In the best tradition of Shakespeare, James Fenimore Cooper, and Stephen King”.
Raymond Chandler certainly utilized the raw materials that Hammett made, but he represented the next phase of the hardboiled story and took the genre in a new direction, one of rich, evocative language and something a little closer to a genuine literary agenda. Reading about Chandler, you almost get the idea that he was insecure in his chosen field, that he feared more than anything not being taken seriously as a writer. He shouldn’t have worried; his reputation as a literary giant is intact, despite the hundreds of pastiches of his work that have surfaced over the decades.
“He was about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.” All those brilliant and fun metaphors that we’ve come to associate with his novels about Philip Marlowe were only the bells and whistles. On a deeper level, Chandler was struggling with bigger themes of decency, humanity, and how to maintain a moral stake in a world where morality has no place. That was something his imitators never understood.
What can you say about Chandler that hasn’t already been said? While not as tight a plotter as Hammett, Chandler’s voice as a writer was sharp and observant, and his style was hugely influential. Like Hammett, Chandler wasn’t prolific; he wrote only seven novels in his lifetime, and only the first four or five of those were notable.
--The Big Sleep
--Farewell, My Lovely
--The High Window
--Lady in the Lake
--The Little Sister
--The Long Goodbye
--The Simple Art of Murder

to be continued


Just had to share this image, it's so great. Manhunt was a crime fiction magazine in the '50's, host to tons of great writers. For more cover images, click on the link over there on the right.