The letter in today’s A-Z Challenge is “N”. I’m talking about one my favorite genres, noir fiction. ~Kat Sheridan
Dead men are heavier than broken hearts. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
I like my fiction the way I like my coffee: dark, a little bitter, and best served on a cold, rainy night. Noir, French for “black,” is a literary genre that features a man (always a man), usually a detective, solving a mystery against a backdrop of violence and corruption.
The staple of early pulp fiction, the idea of the hard-boiled detective hero began in the 1920s, during prohibition, with Caroll John Daly’s creation, Race Williams. More followed in his footsteps, most notably Dashiell Hammett with his private detective, Sam Spade, and Raymond Chandler with Philip Marlowe.
The argument can be made that there’s a difference between hard-boiled detective fiction and true noir, but they overlap so much, that most folks, including me, tend to think of them as the same. If a distinction is to be made, it might be in the personality of the detective himself.
John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee or Micky Spillane’s Mike Hammer are hard-boiled seekers of justice, but they have relationships. They have sidekicks and trusted friends, and relationships with women, even if they’re only temporary or unfulfilled.
But men like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are loners. They’re paladins, cynical, tilting at windmills, strangely romantic, morally ambiguous, and with a more self-destructive personality. The women in their lives either end up dead or betraying them. Same with their friends.
My personal preference is for Raymond Chandler. Both Hammett and Chandler were American-born, but Chandler was raised in England, in “public” schools (what American’s call private schools), and his prose has an elegance and richness that is distinctly different from Hammett’s more terse style. But you couldn’t go wrong with either one.
And of course, there are the noir films, with Humphrey Bogart playing both Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, or Sunset Boulevard, so brilliantly spoofed by Carol Burnett.
I leave you today with a link to my favorite album of classic movie noir music, White Heat: Film Noir. Perfect for a rainy night, a glass of scotch, and lonely detective under the wet neon lights of the mean streets…
Let’s chat: Are you a fan of crime fiction? Who’s your favorite detective?
The “N” book list:
Naked Came the Manatee: Thirteen of Florida’s best writers come together (along with their famous characters) to create a hilarious send-up of the noir/crime novel. Like a game of literary telephone, each chapter is written by a different author. Dave Barry kicks it off with a manatee named Booger, and is joined by the likes of John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and Edna Buchanan.
San Diego Noir: Fifteen of the area’s best writers (including blog friend Lisa Brackmann) come together in this darkly delicious short-story anthology.
Katherine Neville: Complex post-modern thrillers
Image of Humphrey Bogart: By Warner Bros Art (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons