RARA-AVIS: The nineties, and on

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 14 May 2003

We're wrapping up (finally) our trip through the history of hardboiled and noir writing. This month it's the nineties and the oughts, up to today, and beyond.

The early 1990s was when my reading in the area really picked up, thanks to a combination of Black Lizard reprints, working in a bookstore, and then the Internet, newsgroups, and later this mailing list. The list has been a fantastic source of reviews and recommendations, and I've jotted down many names and titles. The ones I've read, I've almost all liked. The ones I haven't read, I'm looking forward to. Thanks to you all. The Internet has been an immense help because it's so easy to find bibliographies and reviews now, and to order out of print books. The average person used to have a hard time finding OP books, or sometimes even just getting a list of all the books in a series. The entire history of the genre is now easily accessible, and I hope it means authors and stories are rescued from obscurity and that more reprints are done (such as the BLACK MASK anthologies that Crippen and Landru are doing). Who knows--publishing on demand could take off and then we'll all be able to buy the complete works of Norbert Davis, or the whole series of Hardman books by Ralph Dennis, just by pushing a button.

Now, as before, when it comes to making a list of good writers who started working in since 1990, my mind goes blank. I can think of two favourites, though: George Pelecanos and Jason Starr. I'd buy anything new from them on sight. I think they're two of the best American writers working today. And I'm very happy that Donald Westlake's persona of Richard Stark came back--it means new Parker books, and reprints of the old ones, which are expensive and hard to find even with all the online used bookstores.

Dennis Lehane is a respected new name, but I haven't read his last two or three books, even though MYSTIC RIVER got great reviews. I really liked Michael Connelly's first books, and how he brought Chandler into modern LA, but his last few have been quite poor. Of writers that kept on through the '90s, there are Robert Parker (disdained by most on the list), Loren Estleman, James Ellroy, and others that you'll have to fill in. When did Ian Rankin start writing?

Who are the writers that started in the '90s and look like they'll put out good work for the next few decades? Who's done just one or two books but looks like a goer? With these new writers, lots of anthologies and reprints, and everything else, is this a high point for hardboiled and noir writing?

When I pull down my copy of Geoffrey O'Brien's HARDBOILED AMERICA (1981), good as it is, it's full of holes and the books he talked about were mostly unavailable. Now there are complete biographies on people he could only find a few pages' worth of material for, and Jim Thompson and David Goodis are in print (not enough of Charles Willeford's stuff is easy to get, though). All the old stuff is well-documented and mostly easy to find, and some of the new stuff is absolutely killer.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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