RARA-AVIS: Re: Most Hard-Boiled?

From: jimdohertyjr ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 19 Dec 2006


Re your comments below:

> Duhamel did not 'coin the term', Serie Noire. The series was named
> by his friend, the poet Jacques Pr鶥rt.

Actually, in a sense, neither of them coined it. "Un serie noir" already existed as a figure of speech in France, translating roughly as "a run of bad luck." Hence the line had a humorous double meaning, not only describing crime fiction with a particularly dark tone or approach, but the events that the characters in that fiction were going to have to go through.

It was Duhamel, however, who set the parameters of the term's meaning by choosing which books would be published under that logo.
> Seems to me that Duhamel's definition (or description, if you
> prefer), however interesting, is nonetheless a red herring. From
> what I can gather, he was interested in procuring, primarily,
> American hardboiled (or British copies of American hardboiled)
> titles. "Dark and sinister" certainly doesn't describe any of Peter
> Cheyney's work, not that I've read, anyway.

Well, as you know, I've always maintained that hard-boiled and noir were not mutually exclusive, and based that opinion partly on the large number of American (or American-style) hard-boiled mysteries that appeared under the logo in its earliest years.

I've never read Cheyney (and very little of James Hadley Chase, who also dominated the first 100 titles published under the line). However, didn't Cheyney write a series of spy novels called the "Dark Series," in which the first word of each title was "Dark?" Maybe his work seemed darker in French.

I hope so, because if even something as broad as "dark and sinister" doesn't apply (and Richard Moore also suggested this when the subject came up on an earlier occasion), then, since there were "Serie Noir" entries which were not hard-boiled either, we're left with virtually nothing that distinguishes noir from any other kind of mystery.

> The phrase does,
> however, describe William Irish and David Goodis. Describes them
> extremely well, in fact. I mention them because Duhamel did coin
> the term S鲩e Blꭥ (which Google translates as The Pale Series).
> As far as I can gather, la S鲩e Blꭥ was established in 1949, a
> year after la S鲩e Noire. 22 novels were published in the Pale
> Series over the next two years. Of those 22 novels, two were by
> David Goodis and two by William Irish. It would appear that Duhamel
> didn't think Goodis and Irish were hardboiled enough for la Serie
> Noire. Apparently this division confused the public so the two
> imprints eventually merged into the one big happy hardboiled/noir
> family under the Serie Noire umbrella.

That's interesting, because I quite agree with you about David Goodis and, particularly, about Cornell Woolrich (William Irish). In fact, Woolrich, precisely because he was so adept at establishing and maintaining a dark, sinister atmosphere, has always seemed to me to be the quintessential noir writer. Moreover, many of the movies deemed definitive examples of film noir, THE WINDOW, THE LEOPARD MAN, BLACK ANGEL, and PHANTOM LADY, were all adapted from Woolrich's work. To say nothing of DARK PASSAGE, from Goodis's novel.

Did Goodis or Woolrich get published under the NOIR label once the two lines were merged?

Interestingly, Gallimard had at least two other mystery lines, SERIE DETECTIVE and another the name of which escapes me, dedicated to more traditional mysteries including writers Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, and Margery Allingham.


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