RARA-AVIS: What I know about Brit Noir (not much)

From: Rene Ribic ( rribic@optusnet.com.au)
Date: 02 Jul 2002

I thought I'd mostly sit this one out, my knowledge of UK noir being somewhat limited. I was a little surprised to realise that I'd read more than I originally thought, although still barely touching the surface. I have yet to read Russell James or David Peace, for example, both of whom have been highly recommended by people such as Al Buchan & other gentlefolk of good taste so they are both high on my list of books to look out for. The new edition of Kersh's NIGHT & THE CITY is a major priority also - I think that one's been out of print for yonks & I do love the movie version, one of the greatest films noir ever made. I've read 3 by Ted Lewis: GET CARTER (aka JACK'S RETURN HOME) which is, IMO, a stone classic.I think I like the film version even more, with Michael Caine as a magnificently reptilian Carter & the decaying industrial landscape of Newcastle, which stands in for what I think was meant to be a small Yorkshire town in the novel. One of the prequels, JACK CARTER'S LAW, was OK but just not in the same league. GBH (aka GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM) is a major improvement. Written in a more
"literary" style than the Carter books, which I recall as being pretty hardboiled (with a Brit accent) in style, it's just as dark & tough & grim. Everyone should read GET CARTER - it'll certainly let you know if you want to read his other stuff. I've read 3 books by Derek Raymond (aka Robin Cook) also, I think. From memory: I WAS DORA SUAREZ; HOW THE DEAD LIVE; HE DIED WITH HIS EYES OPEN. His books are hard to read they are so raw & not a lot happens plot wise. I know a lot of the folks here can't get into him (& conversely there are more than a few who rate him extremely highly). As I've said here before, I find these books very moving. Someone said about David Goodis that every time he finished one of his books he became seriously bummed out. I know just how he feels. I also feel like that when I read Raymond (& Donald Goines, when it comes to it). THE BERLIN NOIR TRILOGY by Philip Kerr is a remarkable achievement. Raymond Chandler in Nazi Germany.Much better than it could have been. It's a tough one to pull off, but Kerr does it. The Teutonic Chandlerisms are so thick in the first volume, for me it was a serious irritation. Luckily, the first novel , MARCH VIOLETS, transcends its faults & the other 2 novels in the trilogy lose the flippancy & Chandlerphors overkill of the first novel. Chandler-style quips would be somehow obscene in the context of the holocaust. THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT by James Curtis dates from the 1930's & is a nice piece of vintage English hardboiled fiction, set amongst the world of lorry drivers & hookers who travel the lorry routes plying their trades. DIRTY WEEKEND by Helen Zahavi came highly recommended by the late Derek Raymond. A nice dose of post-feminist noir. I'm surprised that there aren't more books like this - noir would seem to be the perfect vehicle for expressing female anger with male brutality. Aside from the aforementioned film version of GET CARTER, the next great Brit noir/hb film would have to be THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, starring Bob Hoskins as a Cockney gangster who gets into a pissing contest with the IRA with fairly predictable but still thrilling results. The Brits also made some great hardboiled television around the 1980's in particular.(In fact TLGF was originally made for television but released theatrically, IIRC). I recall one TV show called OUT, which was about the return from gaol of a hardcase named Frank, IIRC again, who was
"stitched up" by a coalition of bent coppers & rival crims, the series following his trail as he tracked down those responsible. Another was a four-partner (I think) called LAW AND ORDER which followed the progress of one small case, a career petty crim, again stitched up by a bent copper, who was brilliantly portrayed by whoever it was. Each episode touched on the case while following a different individual in each episode,: The Policeman's Tale; The Judge's Tale, The Thief's tale etc. I don't know if the Brits aren't making as many of these shows anymore or they just aren't as good as they once were. With THE SOPRANOS it looks like the US has hit the forefront in terms of tough, hardboiled styled TV shows.


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