Wonderful collection of stories, some familiar writers and some new favourites. The introductions to the authors are interesting and just the right length (I normally skip these in other books). I'm already looking forward to re-reading this.
The Best American Noir of the Century collects together a wide range of crime authors from the U.S. and is a great way to find interesting writers who you may not have come across before. Each story is preceded by a brief yet informative introduction to the author. All the pieces were interesting in one way or another but some of my personal favourites were as follows:
Nothing To Worry About – Day Keene A teenage boy thinks he’s got away with murder but his homicidal tendencies may yet give him away. A slice of crime fiction from the Nineteen Forties era.
Man In The Dark – Howard Browne A distraught husband tries to piece together the mystery of his wife’s disappearance and find out just who is the dead body in his wife’s burnt out car wreck? An engrossing mystery story from an author who was new to me.
The Lady Says Die! – Mickey Spillane A wall street dealer tells the story of his friends’ demise to a police detective in a short but powerful piece of work from the legendary Mr Spillane. This is no Mike Hammer but still a solid enticing story.
Professional Man – David Goodis Freddy Lamb is a lift attendant by day and hitman by night. He works for the owner of The Yellow Cat nightclub Herman Charn but his boss has eyes for Freddy’s girlfriend Pearl. This can only lead to trouble for the professional man. A riveting and emotional story plus a stand out piece in this collection from one of the truly great noir writers David Goodis.
The Last Spin – Evan Hunter Two rival gang members try to settle a dispute over a tense game of Russian roulette in this powerful and harrowing tale that really delivers a punch. A true American classic.
Slowly, Slowly In The Wind – Patricia Highsmith A retired businessman moves to the country for the sake of his health but ends up fighting with a local land owner in this impressive and chilling tale from a superb author.
Iris – Stephen Greenleaf A travelling businessman thinks he’s picking up a quirky hitchhiker called Iris but ends up holding the baby and a whole lot more in this engrossing and hypnotic piece with a killer ending. Bleak just like good noir should be.
A Ticket Out – Brendan Dubois Brad and Monroe two teenage boys dream of going to college and escaping/leaving their small town of Boston Falls. But the need for money and a dangerous robbery leave one of the boys scarred for life in this moving, evocative story.
Since I Don’t Have You – James Ellroy A fixer who works for both Howard Hughes and gangster Mickey Cohen is tasked with tracking down a mysterious girl who both his bosses want back. But who is smarter the dame with the brains or the fixer in the mix? Written in a highly stylised way this is a tough talking and gripping crime piece from a well known author.
Texas City, 1947 - James Lee Burke A young boy and his siblings suffer poverty and cruelty from their father’s girlfriend in this evocative and moving story that squeezes the heart and stays with you long after finishing. Truly memorable.
Mefisto In Onyx – Harlan Ellison A man with psychic powers finds himself face to face with a death row serial killer but did the prisoner really commit the hideous crimes? A lengthy mystery story but worth sticking with for the killer payoff.
Out There in the Darkness - Ed Gorman Four friends who have a regular poker night capture an intruder and suffer the consequences of rough justice in this gripping, involving story from the modern age of crime.
Hot Springs - James Crumley Benbow and Mona Sue, a couple on the run hide out in a mountain lodge at Hidden Springs Canyon. Even with a familiar noir plot the talented writer James Crumley creates a rich and colourful tale that heads to a dark and graphic conclusion.
The Weekender - Jeffery Deaver On the run from a drugstore armed robbery two criminals Jack Prescot and Joe Roy Toth hideout in a remote town called Winchester. They have a hostage Randall Weller who tries to plea for his freedom and life in a compelling story with a true noir kick in the guts ending. Great work from a well known author.
Like a Bone in the Throat - Lawrence Block William Croydon, a killer on death row strikes up an unlikely friendship with Paul Dandridge, the brother of a young woman Croydon murdered. But who is kidding who in this riveting slice of gritty crime drama with a twisted ending.
Crack - James W. Hall A University teacher living near Bilbao, Spain discovers a crack in the wall between his home and his neighbours, so begins a downward spiral of voyeurism, obsession and doom as he spies on the young girl next door. A short yet hypnotic piece that stays long in the memory.
Running Out of Dog - Dennis Lehane In the small Southern town of Eden a dangerous equation of people exists – Elgin, his partner Shelley Briggs, his girlfriend Jewel Lut, her husband Perkin Lut and Elgin’s odd friend Blue. What follows is a mixture of friendship, love, lust and madness superbly told by Dennis Lehane. You can feel the dust at the back of your throat with this story, another stand out piece in this collection.
Midnight Emissions - F. X. Toole A masculine story of promising heavyweight boxer Kenny Coyle and the trainers and business people around him. Full of sweat, grit and greed this is a lengthy developed story full of realistic details yet still noir at its core.
When the Women come Out to Dance - Elmore Leonard Lourdes is hired as a personal maid to Mrs Mahmood, soon after they’re talking about murder. Events lead to a dark conclusion in this classic smooth piece of storytelling from one of the masters of crime fiction.
Controlled Burn - Scott Wolven Bill Allen is hiding out after an armed robbery that went wrong. While working at a remote woodlot he goes on a job to burn some fields then disappears on the run again in a poetic reflection of one man’s troubled life on the run.
What She Offered - Thomas H. Cook An author meets Victoria, a strange woman in a bar with an offer that’s both unusual and enticing to him in this original story.
Her Lord and Master - Andrew Klavan Susan and Jim are having a masochistic relationship that leads them to dark things in this original yet highly controversial and thought provoking story.
Stab - Chris Adrian Someone is murdering small animals in the quiet neighbourhood of Severna Forest. Calvin, a young boy who mourns the loss of his identical twin discovers who is behind the stabbings but can he stop them? A truly haunting tale of the loss of childhood innocence and mortality.
The Hoarder - Bradford Morrow In Bayside Park a young man gets a job at a rundown miniature golf course. As he begins spying on the players he becomes obsessed with Penny, his brother’s girlfriend which leads to a heart of darkness in this hypnotic and poetic story of desire.
Missing the Morning Bus - Lorenzo Carcaterra A husband uses his weekly poker evening to try to find out which of his card buddies is responsible for the death of his wife in this friendship story with a surprising twist in the tale.
To summarise you may not like all the stories contained within The Best American Noir of the Century but you’re sure to find something that will spark your interest among the wide variety of authors featured in the book. Enjoy.
4 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
`The long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance' is how editors James Elroy and Otto Penzer describe the hapless collection of losers, dreamers and lowlifes who populate The Best American Noir of the Century - a compilation of short stories from many of the greatest crime writers from the 30's up to the present day. All the usual suspects are correct and present: Chandler, Thompson, Highsmith and even Elroy himself with Since `I Don't Have You' (1988) on familiar ground with star system era Hollywood, pneumatic femme-fatals and Howard Hughes. My personal favourite though is David Goodis' Professional Man (1953) - reminiscent of the French Melville classic movie Le Samurai - an inscrutable professional killer whose professionalism becomes the death of him. For me many of the best stories are also the newest... written with the knowledge that modern readers are familiar with the way noir-ish thrillers play out - or to use the correct parlance; `we got all the angles'. So take the short drop into a long book and observe with morbid fascination how that big score, that sure thing, that perfect crime... went bad.
7 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
James Ellroy in the old interview had said about noir this: «Film Noir died 1959-1960. We love it. It's never going to come back. That's that, dig it. You can't go back. You cannot disingenuously go to tiki lounges and drink those big drinks, think that it's cool and it's not gonna kill you. You can't smoke unfiltered cigarettes in cocktail lounges all day, every day. It's over. The seduction of the past is just that. It's the past. We know more now and you can't go back. Film noir circumscribed an era and was fueled by the morays and repression of the era. You can't go back. You can imitate it and if you imitate it, it had better be something other than a stylistic and thematic imitation of film noir. L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia ape noir, they're historical novels. They trade on film noir but they're not film noir. Noir is over.» In the introduction to this collection Ellroy writes: "The subgenre officially died in 1960. New writer generations have resurrected it and redefined it as a sub-subgenre, tailored to meet their dramatic needs ... Noir will never die - it's too dementedly funny not to flourish in the heads of hip writers who wish they could time-trip to 1948..."
Ellroy is controversial as always, but by and large he's right: noir is dead, but it will always live. What today is called noir, it is scarcely noir, or rather it is not noir at all, but noir is so rooted in contemporary culture that is sometimes difficult to say if this is not noir, then what's this then? Although from the collected 35 stories in the book, only 12 were written before 1960, all other have features of noir as a subgenre. This is, perhaps, not quite honestly, that this book is called «Best American Noir», but the title «Best American Noir, Neo-Noir, Post-Noir» would be too long and awkward, so just forgive it.
Even the earliest examples of noir literature, such as «Spurs» by Todd Robbins or «Pastorale» by James M. Cain, are not dated, but rather look here perhaps better than another stories. They are dated because of their language and their subjects. The later stories are often more elegantly constructed plotted, but bear the shade of a secondary nature: the story is old, but the details are new.
This is an incredible collection, even though there are a few missteps. Stories by Gil Brewer and Mickey Spillane are written as if only for the final twist, the Lorenzo Carcaterra's story is overly schematic, and «Iris» by Stephen Greenleaf, in my opinion, and is not noir at all.
On the back cover the publisher writes that the book includes «many page-turners». For me, noir is just the opposite of a page-turner. When you read noir, to flip a page is not desirable. The body is paralyzed, because then lay the darkness, the abyss, the gas chamber and infinity.
All human vices, all the dark corners of the human soul, all fallings into hell, and all the terrible repetition of the darkest moments of life - it's all there in this book. 615 pages of falling into the abyss, from which there's no exit.
8 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
The noir writer David Goodis (1917 -- 1969) became my wedge into this lengthy anthology "Best American Noir of the Century", which consists of 730 pages and 39 stories. Goodis is best known for his novel "Down There" (1956) which Francois Truffaut made into his celebrated movie "Shoot the Piano Player". I read "Down There" in the Library of America, which subsequently published, in 2012, a volume devoted to five additional Goodis novels. David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s (Library of America (Hardcover)) I discovered a 1953 Goodis short story previously unknown to me, "Professional Man", in this volume, and I was hooked. Set in his native Philadelphia, Goodis' story tells the story of Freddy Lamb, who holds down a job as an elevator operator during the day and works a job as a killer for the mob during the night shift. As with so much of Goodis, Lamb, is lonely and vulnerable. The story describes his relationship to his hard mobster boss and to a stripper, Pearl, whom he loves and his boss desires. The story does not end happily. I was glad of the opportunity to read this story which became an episode in Showtime's "Fallen Angels" in 1995.
Not all of this volume is on the level of the Goodis, but the book offers the reader the opportunity to read a great deal of short noir fiction written between 1923 and 2007. The volume is edited by novelist James Elroy, whose story "Since I don't have you" appears in the book and by Otto Penzler, the founder of the Mysterious Bookshop and the Mysterious Press. Elroy and Penzler each wrote introductions to the book which describe the nature of noir fiction and its relationship to film and to other forms of genre writing such as detective or crime stories. Penzler, for example, writes, "[n]oir works, whether films, novels, or short stories, are existential, pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists, who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters whose greed, lust jealousy, and alienation lead them into a downward spiral as their plans and schemes inevitably go awry." Penzler writes further that the "lost characters of noir" are "caught in the inescapable prisons of their own construction, forever trapped by their isolation from their own souls, as well as from society and the moral restrictions that permit it to be regarded as civilized."
Most of the stories in this volume were published initially in the pulp or detective magazines that flourished until the early 1960s. But much of the volume includes recent noir stories from the 1990s and beyond. The only story in the book that I had read earlier was "Pastorale", a 1928 work by James Cain. Many of the writers, however, will be familiar to readers of noir. Besides Cain and Goodis, the authors in this collection included Evan Hunter, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, and, even, Mickey Spillane. There are stories by famous writers who made their reputations in writings other than noir, including MacKinlay Kantor, and Joyce Carol Oates. Many of the other stories in the book are by authors that had earlier been unfamiliar to me.
Ellroy and Penzler have written short introductions to each of the stories in the volume which are useful in learning more about the authors and their works. For example, I learned about Scott Wolven whose fine story "Controlled Burn" appears in this book, taken from Wolven's acclaimed volume of short stories of the same name. I learned as well about Lorenzo Carcaterra, whose 2007 story "Missing the Morning Bus" concludes the anthology. Oddly enough, David Goodis is treated critically in the introduction to "Professional Man" as the editors write: "[a]lthough his early novels and some short stories are powerful and memorable, his later work is so hopelessly dark that he has failed to maintain his place among the top rank of noir or hard-boiled writers." This is a dubious verdict, given the publication of the LOA volume of Goodis novels in 2012, two years after the publication of Ellroy's and Penzler's anthology.
Besides the Goodis and the Cain stories, I enjoyed the first story in the collection, Tom Robbins' 1923 "Spurs", which became the basis for an early noir movie about carnival life titled "Freaks". Other strongly noir and disturbing stories include Kantor's "Gun Crazy", "A Ticket Out" by Brendan DuBois, James Lee Burke's "Texas City, 1947", and Andrew Klavan's "Her Lord and Master."
The length of this collection and the unfamiliarity of many of the titles will make this book more appealing to readers familiar with noir rather than to those new to the genre. The book is valuable not only for its contents but also because it gathers together magazine stories that would otherwise be difficult to find. Readers wanting an introduction to the noir genre through novels rather than short stories might well be interested in the Library of America's two-volume collection of noir novels from the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. American Noir: 11 Classic Crime Novels of the 1930s, 40s, & 50s (Library of America) Many of the writers in this volume are represented by some of their best works, including James Cain, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, and -- David Goodis.
3 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
I haven't read much noir, and have only recently begun to watch many of the excellent films noir of the 40s and 50s. Aside from Patricia Highsmith, I hadn't read any of the authors in this anthology. So I was looking forward to getting acquainted with such well-known hard-boiled writers as Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, James Ellroy, and James Lee Burke.
I plowed in, starting at the beginning, to get a feel for how the genre developed. The book presents the stories in chronological order, beginning in 1923 and ending somewhat short of a century later, in 2007. Over half the book consists of stories from after 1990. These later stories tend to be longer than the stories of the earlier years, which probably were restricted by space in the pulp magazines they first appeared in, and may have been heavily edited back then, as well.
In no hurry, I started each story, in order. But if the story didn't hold my interest, I skipped to the next story. For the first half of the book, I skipped only one story. From the bizarre and creepy Tod Robbins story that starts the collection, right up to the 1987 Brendan DuBois tale of two teens willing to do anything to get out of their dead-end town, the stories were excellent. After that, they seemed to get more graphically violent, and they were too slow. By contrast with the tightly-plotted and quick-moving earlier stories, the later stories seemed bloated and drawn out. There were exceptions of course. Joyce Carol Oates' "Faithless", for instance, was in the spirit of the older stories.
Children figure in more of these stories than I would have expected. Stories from the 20s and 30s portray teens and even younger children as violent and chillingly evil.
The Best American Noir of the Century is a thick slab of a book at 750 pages. It's a great crash course in the genre and even if you only like half the stories, you'll get your money's worth.
James Ellroy and Otto Penzler have collected 35 short tales here from a vast collection of what has been written in nearly a century. The first tale here is from 1923, and the last from 2007. Penzler in the Foreword, and Ellroy in the Introduction try to explain the quintessence of noir in fiction. We have such tales here as Spurs by Tod Robbins, the basis of the film Freaks  [DVD], Gun Crazy by MacKinlay Kantor which was the basis of the film of the same name, and Out There in The Darkness by Ed Gorman, which was the basis for the film, The Poker Club.
We also have here the first published tale of James M Cain, Patricia Highsmith's favourite of all her tales, and many more, including James Ellroy himself, Mickey Spillane, Evan Hunter, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Jeffery Deaver, along with many others.
What you will find here are tales of desperation from the dark side of life, with misfits and those in difficult situations. One of the tales also falls into the horror genre, and all these are pretty dark. There are stories that you will know and have read before, and others that you haven't ever read, or indeed may not even have heard of the authors. Some of these are darkly humorous, albeit in a macabre way. Admittedly some of the tales are much better than others, and there are some not here that I personally would have liked to have seen, but then we can't have everything.
If you like your crime dark and bleak, then this is a book that will go well in your collection. Although be warned. I overloaded on this, reading it from cover to cover, but this is probably a book that is best enjoyed if you just dip into it and not read it all in one go.
15 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?