RARA-AVIS: Re: Automotive noir

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 16 Jul 2010

  • Next message: Karin Montin: "Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Automotive Noir"

    Harry wrote:

    > Inspired to post by all of the reaction to the original "Where have you gone Rara-Avis?" query, I ask the following question in the hopes of generating a new thread.
    > So, here it comes straight out of left field... can anyone recommend any hard-boiled and/or noir that relates to or is set in the automotive world? Perhaps dealing with
    > the automotive industry, past or present? Or, that revolves around a particular make, model or manufacturer (again past or present)? That involves a serious car guy?

    Ah, cars....

    As a kid, I was a huge car nut. Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Corgis, Dinky Toys, model kits, Hot Rod magazine and the hot rod novels of William Campbell Gault (which I devoured years before I ever discovered he'd written mysteries). But anyone familiar with Gault's early Brock Callahan P.I. books will surely recognize some of the themes and locales -- and even character types and asides -- that pop up in the slew of automotive-themed books he wrote for teenagers.

    And one other adolescent novel about kids and cars that pretty much seared my brain: HOT ROD by Henry Gregor Felsen, a pulp writer someone else mentioned. His best-known book, HOT ROD, was basically aimed at scaring the shit out of young kids and frightening them into being better drivers when they finally got old enough to drive.

    I can barely remember the plot -- something about a messed up, rebellious young hotrodder who has little use for traffic rules and the like. He gets busted and sent to driving school. And then a really bad wreck wipes a large portion of his friends.

    It's the description of the wreck -- a violent buffet of blood and guts and shattered glass and bone and twisted metal and bodies and, most memorably, part of someone's body hanging in mid-air by a shred of skin "like a sack of laundry" -- that scared the hell out of me at the time. I'd never read anything that graphic and upsetting before. And rarely since.

    Noir? I'm not sure. It certainly took on a moralizing tone, but in it's unflinching description of human and automotive wreckage, there was a definite hard-boiled tone. No wonder it was supposedly pulled off the shelves of many school libraries.

    The only other book that really comes to mind is Arthur Hailey's WHEELS, a big honkin' (and best-selling) expose of the automotive industry that, unfortunately, is more soap opera than hard-boiled in tone. But the ins and outs (and thieving and nastiness) of making cars are pretty well covered. Put a darker spin on it, and it would make a nice, nasty noir.

    Granted, now that all the car companies are all such good upstanding corporate citizens, who would believe it?

    And for a cock-eyed, sideways glance at making cars in Detroit, Rob Kantner's Ben Perkins' frequent forays into the industry are worth checking out. A few of Elmore Leonard's Detroit-based books, most notably 52 PICK-UP (I think), also offer occasional nice peeks into one segment or another of the industry.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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