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A Shot of Noir

April 24, 2013

‘Noir is often considered as a genre, or sub-genre, and is usually associated with crime fiction. Really though, it is more like a style of fiction, or even a strain of fiction, rather than a sub-genre that doesn’t have to be limited to crime fiction. Noir winds up becoming a type of fiction that you have to search for and not always find, which is part of what makes a great noir story so rewarding when it is found.’ Brian Lindenmuth – Spinetingler Magazine, Snubnose Press.

Paul D Brazill
Crime fiction is easily and readily sliced up into sub-genres, especially these days. We have the cozy, the murder- mystery, the detective story, the police procedural, the hardboiled. And it’s also categorised by country too – Scandinavian crime, for example, is expected to be very different to the Italian or French variety.

In the above quote, though, Brian Lindenmuth hit the nail on the head when he talked about noir being ‘more like a style of fiction’. More elusive, perhaps. Like a murder glimpsed from the steamy window of a passing train.

The origins of ‘noir’ as a definition of a sharp sliver of crime fiction goes back to the mid-1940s when the French publisher Marcel Duhamel cleverly packaged American pulp fiction – from the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich – in black covers, as the imprint Série noire. And since then it has also been tied like a noose to the cinematic versions of those books. Films that painted the world with light and pitch black shadows.

Ostensibly crime fiction – or skirting its razor edge – noir is a taste that’s as black and bitter as an espresso or a shot of moonshine-whisky. Noir, for me, is all about mood. And a dark mood at that because, as Otto Penzler once said, ‘noir is about losers’. For writers and fans of noir, we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the abyss between the stars.

So where can you get a shot of noir? Try Derek Raymond,  Maxim Jakubowski, Vicki Hendricks’ Miami Purity, Julia Madeleine, Georges Simenon, Patricia Highsmith, David Goodis, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Albert Camus’ The Outsider, Harry Crews, Nelson Algren, John and Dan Fante, Dorothy B. Hughes, Chuck Palahniuk, Alan Guthrie’s Slammer, Dostoyevsky’s Notes From The Underground, James Ellroy, Graham Greene, Carole Morin, Heath Lowrance’s The Bastard Hand, Ken Bruen’s Rilke On Black, Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square, Tom Wright’s What Dies In Summer, Donna Tartt, Colin Wilson’s Ritual In The Dark, Steve Mosby, Richard Godwin, Megan Abbott, Josh Stallings – who has recently published a ‘noir memoir’ called All The Wild Children. And perhaps the most noir of all, Les Edgerton’s The Rapist, which wears its dark heart on its blood-stained sleeve like a call to arms to the dispossessed, disenfranchised and desperate.

Paul D. Brazill
Paul was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Polish and Slovene. He has had bits and bobs of short fiction published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8 and 10, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here. You can follow him on Twitter.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2013 10:12 pm

    Thanks for letting me guest.

  2. April 27, 2013 10:14 pm

    Put Paul D. Brazill at the top of any noir list. The top.

  3. April 27, 2013 10:17 pm

    Paul D Brazill is almost as good a critic as his friend Richard Godwin.

  4. April 27, 2013 11:20 pm

    I love your update of Wilde’s bon mot; nicely done.

  5. April 27, 2013 11:52 pm

    Great article. But the Otto Penzler’s “noir is for losers,” I still have a problem with that. I’d much prefer he had said, “noir is another name for desperation.” But that’s me.

  6. April 29, 2013 3:48 am

    Interesting the cultural variations of Noir.

  7. May 1, 2013 4:10 am

    “More elusive, perhaps. Like a murder glimpsed from the steamy window of a passing train.” ~ That’s a good descrip . . . the shadows, the hues, the maybe’s, the muse . . . it’s all there, and then some corner turned which you never saw coming. Ah, but as much as I admire good Otto Penzler, I call him on the “noir is for losers” liner note — There’s a triumph in the “AHA!” moment and a glimmer and a gloss to a good pour of wry . . . or any shot of hootch to celebrate a case solved, a fiasco aborted, a down and outer finding a rare crack in the chasm he thought he was sentenced to.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate, believing in believers
    and the shadows of Noir . . . and Paul Brazill and Richard Godwin (grinnn)


  1. A Shot Of Noir | PAUL D. BRAZILL
  2. What Is Noir? | PAUL D. BRAZILL

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