RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Automotive noir

From: Harry Joseph Lerner (
Date: 17 Jul 2010

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    I haven't read HOT ROD, but when I was 10 or 11 I read Felsen's BOY GETS CAR and did that ever have a profound effect on me. Not nearly as graphic as HOT ROD, as I recall, but I remember it really hit home about asserting one's independence and both the advantages and responsibilities that come along with doing so. I recently picked up a copy of it out of pure nostalgia and it is what got me thinking about hybrids of cars and noir.

    Thanks again everyone for all of the great suggestions. Keep them coming!

    Best, Harry
    ________________________________________ From: [] On Behalf Of Kevin Burton Smith [] Sent: July 16, 2010 12:03 PM To: Subject: 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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