Re: RARA-AVIS: Who changed the noir writing ?

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 02 Mar 2007

At 10:10 AM 02/03/2007, you wrote:

>I know what you mean. Ken Bruen is one of my favorites (one of very few
>authors I will buy in hardback, have even ordered books from the
>overseas because of the delay before their US printing), but I'm kind of
>dreading the probable imitators, fearing they will try to imitate the
>distinctive style and miss the substance.

I took the original query a bit differently than you, to mean who is breaking new ground in noir writing, not just who are the new, or more recent writers in the field. So I'm not sure what Ken Bruen, or many of the others named so far are doing that takes noir or hardboil in a new direction. Not that I provided much info of that sort when I suggested Ken Harvey either, but still I'd like to go on that riff for a bit.

What's new about Ken Bruen? I've read only the one about killing Tinkers, and liked it- looking forward to reading more. It strikes me that much of that book's appeal comes from the style, which on one level is based upon catching the street vernacular, which is our working definition of hardboil. What's different with Bruen is the location of those particular streets, but even here it strikes me that there are older precedents, going back to Roddy Doyle etc. There were elements of noir and crime in The Commitments and Paddy Clark etc. too, though we don't normally consider them crime writing. Right now, I think Ellroy is still noir's leading stylist, even if we're not always happy with the results.

So is Bruen a new direction on this basis, or did I give too superficial a read to see something new in the substance?

If new locations are enough to consider them a new path, then I'd like to mention Jose Latour, whose mean streets are in Havana. For a number of reasons, most of them obvious, we haven't had a lot of information about day to day life in Cuba, let alone crime and government corruption. And the aforementioned Ken Harvey finds mean streets in, of all places, Newfoundland. Again, a lot of what we get written about Newf is of tye-diddley-aye outporters and their Irish roots, with only a suggestion of a broader mean streak. But the infamous Cod Co. improvisational comedy group developed a humour based upon a culture of limited-opportunities, fixed attitudes and hard drinking. Harvey's is the first noir I've seen that gets down to the cultural inescapability of street-level crime in St. John's, and by inference, other communities as well.

It also strikes me that one of the difficulties of dealing with this question is that writing for books is no longer the primary medium for noir or most genres. There are many techniques, character, plot lines and styles that are now broken on television or the movies before we see them in novels or short stories. "Memento" and "Pulp Fiction" at least drew attention to non-chronological storytelling which is a relatively new trend to noir and hardboiled fiction, I think, but only one has a link to text and even that one has a related chicken/egg question.

>"Is there anyone who has debuted since 2000 (and yes the date is
>arbitrary) who is blowing other Avians away? If so, please share."
>Charlie Huston, both his crime and vampire nor series, have the first
>volume collecting his Moon Knight on order.

Cross-overs are new and expanding in noir and, obviously, other genres. Don't know that many of them blow me away, but it promises interesting possibilities.

>Dominic Stansberry is pre-2000, right? I wasn't as impressed by The
>Confession as some (nor was I offended by it), but Last Days of Il Duce
>and Chasing the Dragon were great. I've go to get some more of his.

The thing I like about Stansberry is that, based on his Manifesto, there's an awareness of a need to push the envelope, that the genre cannot live on nostalgia alone, even though many of us were uncertain that he's found significant new ground himself. But he's interesting both for the effort and the anticipation of the possibility that something different and exciting will emerge from this corner.

>And a few rara-avians:
>Duane Swierzcynski, with two crime novels that are pretty different in
>subgenre, but both wit breakneck paces.
>Dave Zeltserman whose Fast Lane twists the PI genre. Looking forward to
>his next -- isn't it imminent Dave?
>Allan Guthrie was first published after 200, right? I've really liked
>both of his, looking forward to his next.
>Richard Aleas's Little Girl Lost was a nice series debut.
>Terrill Lee Lankford published two (very good) pre-2000 books before
>immersing himself in the film industry. Post-2000 he came back with two
>books set in its underbelly.
>These may not be rewriting the rules of the genre/s (with the possible
>exception of Dave's subversion, but there's decades ol precedent for
>that, too), but they are renewing it by writing very well within them.

Be specific, please. Let's assume they're all good writers and worth reading, and they're relatively new at the genre, but what do they do that looks to at least to promise new ground? I'm not denying that they do this (I don't know), I just want more info.

For my part, I think there's a trend to broaden the availability of crime, where and how it occurs. So many stories I read or see now take place against an ongoing background of criminal activity at different distances from the primary characters, with the sense that it's always around and ready to draw people in. That criminal (and immoral) behaviour is not an either/or, white hat vs. black hat, isolated set of events, but rather that corruption is a constantly available and partaken at varied times according to needs and desires, by all. This thought occurred to me when watching The Black Doneleys last night on telly, and I think it applies to Harvey's
"Inside" as well. I think we're going to see more sub-urban noir in the future, playing off that idea, getting away from the largely urban nature of noir. And we'll see more of it set in multi-cultural communities, mixed with multi-cultural issues, with culture tied less and less to geography. We get a bit of that with Bruen, his protag moving from Galway to England & back. Mobility in the age of globalization is ripe for crime-writing exploitation. A lot of that might be happening under the heading of "terror" but that's just another form of crime, isn't it, for writing purposes?

The other thing I think I see now, and though I haven't read it
(discuss among yourselves, please) my sense from what I've heard is that Gun Monkeys might be an example, is the depiction of violence for the sheer, adrenaline pumping pleasure of it, which is something that has appeared before but usually under a form of self-censorship which compels a condemnation of this behaviour. I have read some unpublished work that picks up this theme as well, and I'm wondering if there isn't more of it related to youth gangs.

And finally, what I like to read and write about are the difficulties of making individual decisions between right, wrong, moral, criminal, etc. in this multi-media age of uncertain values.

But that's just me, Kerry

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