Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir and Hardboiled Fiction

From: Alan Carter (
Date: 13 Dec 2003

> This list is supposed to welcome discussions of both
> hardboiled/PI/police fiction AND noir fiction. I've been thinking about
> the very different views of life that these writers depict. Lately,
> we've discussed the difference between Chandler and Hammmet. Not much
> difference there - except in style. But try to compare the PI-novels -
> where something is wrong and the PI corrects the wrong and everybody's
> happy in the end - with the Goodis/McCoy/Thompson view of life. These
> ways of writing - these problems that are described - and the solutions
> to the problems, they are so very different! I'm not saying anything's
> wrong, anybody can discuss anything, but don't you agree that we're
> discussing literature with fundamentally different views of life on this
> list?
> Regards,
> Geir Glosvik

     If I may interject...I think the world-view of both Noir and Hard-Boiled fiction is one in which the "World" portrayed is essentially an evil one. The world of Cain and Woolrich and Thompson is one of despair, bitterness and corruption. The typical Noir/Hard-Boiled protagonist is often viewed as a "White Knight" out to right wrongs and do justice. I think this is partially mistaken.
     The typical protagonist in both kinds of stories can not always be describes as a "Good" fighting "Evil." One of the greatest characters I've ever seen created (in one of the hardest of the hard-boiled novels I've ever read) is a corrupt gangster named Gerry Kells in Paul Cain's "Fast One." There is no attempt at all in this novel to portray Kells as anything but a crook.
      Same is true of one of - in my opinion - the hardest hard-boiled novels ever written. "Solomon's Vinyard" by Jonathan Lattimer. While the protagonist here is, in fact, a PI, he most assuredly cannot be described as someone trying to right wrongs.
     The point is this: Characters, I think, should be described as
"Hard-Boiled." They are tough, gritty, purposeful men (and sometimes women)who make their own rules and follow their own sense of justice.
 Novels and stories, on the other hand, I think are best described as
"Noir" as the plots and situations portrayed in the "world-view" setting of corruption and evil create in the reader what Chandler called "a smell of fear."
     Simply stated, characters are Hard-Boiled. Novels are Noir. Opinions?


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