Re: RARA-AVIS: Back into the definitional whirlpool (spoilers for FALLING ANGEL)

Date: 15 May 2004


Re your comments below:

> Even granting you this point -- and your
> qualification
> wasn't immediately apparent to me, anyway -- does



Noir but not hard-boiled


Haven't read it.


Noir but not hard-boiled.


Haven't read it. However, THE SPY _WHO_ CAME IN FROM THE COLD is noir and marginally hard-boiled, and the movie version may be a candidate for the last official film noir. In fact I recall a reading a review (I think it was by short story ace Edward D. Hoch) in which he complained that the B&W photography made an already dark story seem TOO dark.

> Or Joe R. Lansdale's classic short
> story "Night They Missed the Horror Show"?

Haven't read it. But the Lansdale stuff I have read qualifies as noir and some of it is hard-boiled.

> They're all crime stories, they all have a dark and
> sinister atmosphere (at least I think so); are they
> all noirs?

See above.
> I personally think that it's a lot harder to define
> "noir" or "hardboiled" than, say "police procedural"
> or "spy story". Those latter two are structural
> definitions, they describe the plot. The first two
> are
> stylistic definitions. You could have a noirish
> police
> procedural, or a hardboiled one, or one that's
> neither. They're approaches to subject matter, it
> seems to me, and it's a lot harder to quantify that
> kind of thing.

I don't disagree that there can be a lot of cross-pollination. Ellroy's cop novels are noir. Nan Hamilton's are not. But they're both LA-set police procedurals.

Nor, by defining noir or hard-boiled, do I mean to suggest that there aren't gradations within the parameters. For example, most would probably agree that Mike Hammer is more hard-boiled than the Continental Op who, in turn, is more hard-boiled than Phil Marlowe. But that's not the same as saying that Hammer's hard-boiled and the Op's not, or that the Op's hard-boiled and Marlowe's not.

Even within a author's work, even within a given series, there can be gradations. Chandler's "Red Wind" is more noir that "Trouble Is My Business," and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY more noir than THE HIGH WINDOW.

Finally, it's possible, as I've said several times, to agree on a definition, but not agree on whether or not a given work, or a given character, fits that definition.

Many who like the "tough/colloquial" definition think that James Bond fits. I don't. Disagreeing on that point doesn't make the definition any less valid.
> It's tempting to be a hardass, keep it simple,
> in/out.
> If you can quantify a spy story, why not noir? I
> understand completely, for in the past I often
> thought
> this way myself. But I was an idiot. Sometimes the
> straightforward thing just doesn't work: there's
> just
> too many counterexamples, and there'll always be a
> smartass who'll share them. Is somebody who's just
> finished Goodis's DOWN THERE and wants something
> similar really going to get that from FALLING ANGEL,
> a
> book where it's revealed the hero sold his soul to
> the
> devil and the investigation was a way for Satan to
> collect?

Yes, but that has nothing to do with what is meant by
"hard-boiled" and "noir." Those terms are just descriptions of a type of story. They're not guarantees that a given reader is going to like everything that fits those parameters.

That you like Chandler doesn't mean you'll like, say, Robert Leslie Bellem. Nevertheless, it doesn't follow that Marlowe and Turner are NOT both hard-boiled private eyes.

Similarly, liking, say, James M. Cain, doesn't mean you'll like Patricia Highsmith, though they explore a lot of similarly noir-ish themes.

All of that depends on the individual writer, the individual reader, the individual book, the particular mood the reader's in when he picks up that book, and a whole host of other things that have nothing to with whether or not a given book is hard-boiled or noir or both or neither.

Those are all questions of a given reader's taste, a given writer's talent, a given book's effectiveness, and other things having nothing to with the whether or not the proposed definitions are valid.

If you want a definition of hard-boiled or noir that guarantees that a reader will enjoy all books falling within a particular classification, I'm sorry, there's just no such thing. That's something every reader is going to have to decide on a book-by-book basis.
> That doesn't mean you can't define noir or
> hardboiled,
> I just think it pays to be nuanced about it. List
> the
> criteria that generally distinguishes noir fiction
> (forboding atmosphere, realism, crime story,
> downbeat
> ending, weak or insufficient protagonist, paranoia
> or
> defeatism, etc.), list authors or books that easily
> fit (Woolrich, Goodis, Cain, Kersh's NIGHT AND THE
> CITY, etc.), note the marginal cases (Lansdale,
> maybe), note the ones that seem not to fit (FU
> series), and then fight it out on an individual
> author
> and book basis. When you're done, the sum total of
> the
> works in the "easily fit" and "maybe fit" catagory
> should give you a picture of noir fiction.

That's essentially what I did. And I discovered that the criteria that generally distinguishes noir is a dark and sinister atmosphere. Not weak protagonists. Not downbeat endings. Not defeatism. Just a dark and sinister atmosphere. Further I discovered that not only Goodis, Cain, Kersh, and Woolrich, but Spillane, Chandler, Hammett, and, yes, Sax Rohmer, all easily fit the parameters.

So now you're down to the individual books, just like I said you'd be, and just like you admitted you'd be.
> . . . you were talking in
> another post about how the SERE NOIRE guys
> classified
> noir writers. Do you think that Chandler fits?

I've said so several times during this discussion. I grant you the title of my e-book on Chandler (RAYMOND CHANDLER - MASTER OF AMERICAN NOIR) was imposed on me by my publisher (or more correctly employer, since it was work-for-hire) but I didn't object. I think it was a prefectly appropriate title. And the SERIE NOIR guys must've thought so, too, or else why publish him under that imprint?

> Whatever that French guy did, does it seem right to
> you? Is he noir in the way THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T
> THEY? is noir? I don't think so.

Maybe not, but that comes down, as I suggested before to gradations within noir, not whether or not they're both noir.



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