Re: RARA-AVIS: Allan Guthrie's Top 200 Noirs

From: Allan Guthrie (
Date: 20 Dec 2007

----- Original Message ----- From: "Jeff Vorzimmer" <>
> I was looking over your Top 200 Noirs and I noted a couple of things.
> First,
> I don't see any women on the list

Have another look, Jeff. There are one or two (Kathleen Sully, Vin Packer, Margaret Miller). Not many, granted, but that's perhaps because noir is historically a very male-dominated area. Some of the top exponents of noir today are female -- Sara Gran, Vicki Hendricks, Megan Abbott, Louise Welsh, Nicola Monaghan, Christa Faust, to name but a handful -- but that's a relatively recent occurence. The cut-off point for my list was 1997.

> and such a list should at least include
> Highsmith and Caspary or to rephrase--they really should have been among
> the
> authors you read.

I don't get along with Highsmith, sorry. Not a fan of the slow build. Haven't read Caspary and I agree I should read her. Along with many, many other authors.

> Second, I see Boris Vian's I Spit on Your Graves, which
> really isn't worthy of a Top 200 list.

I have no answer to that.

> Third, it's a strange definition of
> noir that allows you to include Tobacco Road, but not The Maltese Falcon
> or
> The Big Sleep.

If the list was my top 200 hardboiled detective novels then MF and BS would be there. Maltese Falcon is one of my favourite novels and I know some people think of it as noir but I don't. Tobacco Road is absurdist noir at its finest. If you don't connect absurdity with noir, fair enough, I'm sure lots of people don't. But to me, they're easy bedfellows, both being about the futility of human endeavour.

> Fourth, there are much better Willefords than the two you
> list.

Very likely. There are a few I haven't read. I find it hard to imagine any novel being a better noir novel than Pick Up, though, an exceptional novel about a relationship between two drunks.

> That said, I must add you are still the biggest influence on what I read.

God help you!

Some others I'd add to the list if I were compiling it today: Dark Hazard, W R Burnett: about a man who loves a greyhound more than his wife. The Outsider, aka The Stranger, Albert Camus: re-read it recently and it's a fine book, particularly in the lack of backstory. Even at 120 pages, though, I thought it was a bit too long and could do with a few cuts. Night Of The Hunter, Davis Grubb: Hard to read it without imagining Mitchum. Which isn't a bad thing. Terrific writing, though. Lemons Never Lie, Richard Stark: Hard Case reprinted this clever twist in the Parker series, in that Parker isn't in it. Superb nonetheless. Lots of peripheral bank robbery stuff, but the main storyline is revenge-based. GBH, Ted Lewis, 1980: I've only read three of his novels but each one is magnificent. This one's about an ex-porn king who's in hiding, the whys and wherefores told in interwoven parallel narratives. Fat City, Leonard Gardner: about third-rate boxers in Stockton, CA. One of the best novels I've ever read, regardless of genre.


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