RARA-AVIS: Forties Top Five

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 23 Dec 2002

Here's my pick for the top 5 novels in the 40s. I would qualify this pick by noting that I'm not very well-read in the time frame, with about 15 total. Top pick is NIGHTMARE ALLEY, descending from there.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY, William Gresham 1946 SOLOMON'S VINEYARD, Latimer 1941 I, THE JURY, Mickey Spillane 1947 I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVES, Vian 1946 RIDE THE PINK HORSE, Hughes 1946

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is a spectacular piece of noir.

Spillane's writing might not be topnotch, but I really like the character of Mike Hammer. Hammer's ugly mad dog attitude is a far cry from the noble gleam of Marlowe's tarnished armor. It's a story that needed to be told. Hammer's excesses are almost poetic.
  Vian's work is a shocking, scary, and suspenseful look into the mind of an insane killer, right up there with Thompson's KILLER INSIDE ME.

SOLOMON'S VINEYARD is funny, sharp, and exciting. I believe that he's not entirely serious, and that he's having a little fun with the genre in this book. But yet the book is not turned into an insignificant joke.

I could go two ways on RIDE THE PINK HORSE. I could complain that Sailor walks around the damn town forever without doing anything, and that the very dynamic relationships he develops with Pancho and Pila end insignificantly. But Sailor's mind is tortured by the present and haunted by the past. It's a good read.

I'd give honorable mention to Homes's BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH and Brown's THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT. Homes's prose and story are both simple and elegant. But did you ever hear David Allan Coe's perfect country western song? Homes's GALLOWS seemed like he was trying to write the perfect private eye noir. Brown's writing is superb and CLIPJOINT is an entertaining story, but I coulda used a bit more ass-kicking. God, that's a shallow thing to admit, isn't it?

What are your top picks for the 40s? I'm not trying to instigate a new list. I'm just fishing for more books to read and opinions about them.


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