RWX3

EPIII: Wherein the intrepid, trench coat clad and fedora sporting writer takes a trip down the dank, dark, back alleys of Noirville and finds a snoot full of trouble with crooked cops, private dicks with bad intentions and Dangerous Dames with killer gams.

Main Entry: noir *

Pronunciation: ˈnwär

Function: noun

Etymology: short for film noir

Date: 1980

1: crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings

2: film noir

It’s such a simple sounding definition, isn’t it? It’s so straight forward and plain spoken, right? It also misses the truth of the matter by about a million miles. “Noir” is one of those words that have different meanings to different people. Don’t believe me? Try this little experiment. Go ask 12 random people what noir means and you will get a dozen different answers. Noir, to me, is defined in the same way pornography was by Regan era Attorney General Edwin Meese (and I paraphrase here): “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” That’s how I feel about noir.

In my opinion, what makes a story noir is the language used in the writing. The writing is what separates regular procedural crime books (which will be dealt with in a future column) from the noir crime books.

I could easily have used a 5 iron and laid up for this episode and gone with the classic writers of the Noir genre. I’m speaking about the Dashell Hammetts, Raymond Chandlers, Ross MacDonalds, Mickey Spillanes and James M. Cains of the world. You can’t go wrong with any of these writers and they are the ones that define and created the genre of noir. No, instead I’m going to cover some of the newer masters of crime noir. Also, instead of picking out a single book to ramble about I’m going to review authors instead.

I’m going to kick off the review with the obvious choice for this column, James Elroy, the “Demon Dog of American crime fiction.”

Jmes Ellroy I once read a review that that compared Elroy’s writing style to that of experimental Jazz. His writing is staccato, with abrupt tonal shifts and high and low notes scaled thought the music and the writing. I think that is a fair assessment of Elroy. He is the Thelonius Monk of hard boiled noir writing.

Elroy’s books spill across the second half of the 20th century like blood from a knife wound and they follow a time line. The “LA Quartet” starts at the tail end of the 1940’s and runs through the end of the 1950’s. The books that make up the Quartet are The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz (might be my favorite book.)

Next, Elroy tackles an “alternate underground” history of the 60’s and the 70’s. This series is often referred to as the “Underworld USA Trilogy” and it’s a doozie of a series. The books in this trilogy are American Tabloid (this could also be my favorite), The Cold $6000 and Blood’s a Rover. (I have not read this yet, it came out in September.)

Lastly there is the Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins series that ends in the 1980’s. Theoretically they are their own series, not tied into the other books, but I think they fit right into the time/story lines of the previous books.

Elroy has other mystery books and a slew of nonfiction writings about crime, Elroy himself and the murder of his mother. James Elroy is one interesting cat, deeply bizarre and messed up, but the question always remains about him, how much is real and how much is marketing? Here’s a link to his Wiki page if you are interested. tinyurl.com/bkv5m3.

If you get a chance at some point, listen to an Elroy book on CD. The writing really pops when you hear it being read.

vachss If James Elroy’s writing is the Jazz of Thelonius Monk, then the next author could be thought of as the cool, composed, stylized and measured tones of Art Pepper. I am of course talking about Andrew Vachss and his brutal, hard core, off the books private eye, Burke. It’s just Burke by the way that’s all it says on his birth certificate, Baby Boy Burke. No father named and his mother, a teen prostie using a fake name, abandoned him at the hospital. Burke is a scammer, a killer and vengeance personified. He has one religion and that’s revenge for all that was done to him as a child. If you think noir is about anti-heroes then Burke fits the bill if that bill includes a non-hero like Burke and his “family of choice.” They are a near midget, master hustler and preacher, a mute Mongolian warrior and a genius that lives in a junk yard. Their sister is a transsexual hooker and their mother is a Chinese gangster that operates out of a restaurant in China town.

Burke is about three things, revenge, money and killing anybody that hurts children. Please pardon me while I delve into some dark issues for a moment. Andrew Vachss has devoted his life to saving children and dogs and his writings reflect those issues, often times in sickening gut wrenching detail.

In the real world Vachss is an attorney with over thirty years of dealing with kids in different ways. As an aid worker in the war torn country of Biafra (south-eastern Nigeria), as a warden in a kiddy prison, social worker and lawyer. In 2002 Vachss founded an organization called PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children. I have included a link to the organization so you can see the good work they have accomplished. I have been involved with PROTECT on a limited basis (day job gets in the way) and have contributed to the cause financially. Here’s the link: www.protect.org/. Also, here’s a link to Vachss’ Wiki page tinyurl.com/n4df6. If you scroll down to the reference section you will find a link to Vachss official website called The Zero and its interesting reading. Ok soap box retired.

The next stop on the noir train is at Richard Stark, nee Donald Westlake, and his master thief and total bad ass character Parker. This is the character that Mad Mel based the movie Payback on. Parker is also the same character in the vastly superior Lee Marvin movie Point Blank, he just had a different name.

I have not read all the Parker books but the ones that I have read all shared the same basic story. Parker pulls a job, gets screwed somehow and goes ballistic getting back whatever he lost. I love the Parker books, great fun to read and are pure hard boiled noir bad assery.

walter mosley

Next up is Walter Mosely and his Easy Rowlens character. These books take place in LA from the late 40’s through the 60’s and the main character is a black PI so we get to explore what it was like to be black in the City of Angles. Here’s a hint, it wasn’t great. The series, as far as I’ve read, is a bit uneven but when Mosely is on, the books are classic noir.

robert campbell Sticking with the LA noir theme, the next author is Robert Campbell and his Whistler character. Most of these books have a Hollywood bent to them because Robert Campbell was a screen writer for years. Whistler is a rather philosophical character prone to hanging out in the seedy diners of Hollywood. I found the first book, In La La Land We Trust, in a used book store and ended up tearing through it in about 5 hours and spent the next day scouring used book stores in San Diego County looking for the rest of the books. If you ever had a suspicion that Hollywood is a sleazy place full of lowlifes, these books won’t change your mind. Here’s link to the obituary that the LA Times wrote about Robert Campbell. I found it interesting so I included it here. tinyurl.com/yck6at4

Elmore Leonard
Lastly there is Elmore Leonard. I’m not sure if technically he’s a noir writer but I think he is and it’s my list and I love me some Elmore Leonard so on it he goes. He’s just damn good no matter what genre he chooses to write in. The consistent output that Leonard creates is staggering. He writes across all genres and they all kick ass.

I’ve made some solid suggestions here and look forward to reading yours in the Chang Back.

Mele Kalikimaka and Mahalo,

Xiphos.

*definition by Merriam-Webster online

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About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

30 responses to “RWX3”

  1. xiphos0311 says :

    I would like to take this opportunity to wish BARFY, Blitz, Mrs Droid and Mrs. Jarv the resident married couple, Continetalops, Franklin T. Marmoset, ThereWolf, Just Pillow Talk,ToadKillerDog,Tom Bando, Mavra(MIA), Bronco, Morbius and Jonah a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Also I would like to extend holiday wishes to Danny, StuntCock Mike, Hawaiian Organ Doner, Abominable Snowcone and the rest of the boys at Ain’t It Bale News.

    Lastly, If anybody sees Fred tell him to get over here and to have a Merry Christmas.

  2. Continentalop says :

    Xi, Merry X-Mas.

    Damn good list of Authors. I’ve read pretty much all those guys work except for Vachs. I’ll have start adding him to my must read list (along with your earlier recommendations.

    BTW – have you ever read Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson? Two of my all-time favorite hard-boiled, pulp, noir writers.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Merry Christmas Conti.

      If you get around to reading Vachss start at the beginning because the books near the end of the series get complicated with a lot of references to past characters and events. The first book is Flood.

      I have not read Cornell Woolrich so on the list he goes. I have read one or two books by Thompson. If I had read more he would have made the list.

  3. Continentalop says :

    Also, if you get a chance to see James Ellroy speak in person, do so. He is infinitely entertaining. I mean, any man who says he lost his virginity to Phyllis Kirk at age 5 or will describe how he would beat David Mam

  4. Continentalop says :

    (hit published to damn early)…David Mamet in a fight is worth the visit.

  5. jarv says :

    Crikey! I’ve read nearly all of these as well.

    What about Carl Hiassen? Skin Tight strikes me as being noir

  6. xiphos0311 says :

    I did consider Hiassen for this but I decided to save him for a different RWX article. Dude writes some some of the best and most quirky enviro/humor hybrid stories out there. Of course he is the only that writes in that specialized genre, still he’s the best at it.

  7. jarv says :

    They always ruin his books when they try to adapt them

    • xiphos0311 says :

      They always ruin his books when they try to adapt them

      Besides Striptease, what other book by Hiassen have be adapted to the screen?

      Although Strip Tease wasn’t horrrible it was just sort of blah. It had a nice amount cans in it and Burt Reynolds was hilarious but I don’t think he was really acting, they just followed him around with a camera.

      • Bartleby says :

        Hoot. ugh.

        Hey Xi? How were the holidays? Just got back. As usual, nice article. Love most of these guys.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Hello Jonah,

        My holiday was OK I kicked backed for the weekend since I don’t have any family. Now I’m just getting ready for the work week.

      • Bartleby says :

        Got a review of ‘Give ’em Hell Malone’ with Thomas Jane coming soon…a noir directed by Russel Mulcahy.

  8. lord bronco says :

    Bloods a Rover–Finished it a couple weeks back. It’s very good-and yes, the series does end in a big way. it was odd-it seemed his most coherent and readable book yet–except it still has unalloyed mayhem going on all over the place. i wouldn’t call it subdued, but it was less breathless and gimmicky than stuff out of the ealier LA Quartet. saying more would ruin it, so i’ll wait to hear your thoughts after you get around to it. Some characters i was curious about don’t appear at all, so know I feel like I have to reread books one and two…

  9. jarv says :

    Striptease was an abomination-

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Jarv you didn’t enjoy The Bandit as an ultra pervy congressman?(which isn’t saying much there are 435 of them in Congress and another 100 in the senate) and I thought Ving Rhames was pretty good. I agree overall it wasn’t that good, but it did have some enjoyable parts I thought. The T 1000 did a good job also.

  10. xiphos0311 says :

    Skink rocks. To bad more politicians don’t have his intestinal fortitude.

  11. Droid says :

    I love me some Ellroy. The first of his I read was The Big Nowhere which was almost like dipping my toe in to test the water. Then read LA Confidential which was terrific and truly unapdaptable which makes me admire Helgeland and Hanson even more. Then read American Tabloid which is just a surreal headfuck. It’s so off the wall, but at the same time it’s grounded in the weird alternate reality where you start to believe that JFK, Bobby, Hoover, Hughes et al actually did these things. Big Pete’s a nutter and a champ. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the series.

    • lord bronco says :

      Yup, xi is pretty damn spot on with his literary critique.

      I agree with him, White Jazz is was my favorite of the LA Quartet.

      Even odder, I just realized an abstract truth owing to schennanigans over at AIBN.

      Megan Fox is playing up the Black Dahlia femme fatale archetype.

      Read the book, look at the wanna be actress-It’s actually quite creepy. (And no, I will talk trash about Ms. Fox’s Manparts, but I wish her no ill will in that kind of sense).

      • xiphos0311 says :

        White Jazz has perhaps the greatest ending paragraph ever written in a book. Dave Kline was one conflicted motherfucker.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      The adaptation of LA Confidential is amazing considering the book takes place over 7 or 8 years and they were able to make an engrossing well made movie.

      I can sort of believe that Hoover, the Kennedy’s et al were just that fucking goofy.

  12. xiphos0311 says :

    Megan Fox is playing up the Black Dahlia femme fatale archetype

    That’s an interesting idea. I Kind of changed my mind about her bit after watching an interview on, I think, The Tonight Show a few days ago. She showed some personality for once and was sort of interesting. I won’t stop with the Tranny jokes though, they make me laugh.

  13. jarv says :

    I did enjoy the bandit- but he was the only bit of that shitfest that they got right.

    The husband for example was completely wrong

  14. ThereWolf says :

    Another well written column, Xi. And again highlights just how under-read I am!

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Thanks Wolf. If you have the hankering grab any book I suggest becasue I would bet cash monies that you might get some enjoyment from them.

      Pretty soon I’m going to be switching over to nonfiction so if that is more in your wheel house stay tuned.

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