Nice and Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction

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Published by Serpent's Tail, London, Used Condition: Near Fine Soft cover. Save for Later. About this Item In near fine condition; slightest rubbing top of spine; short, soft diagonal crease lower outside corner front cover; light toning to clean interior pages; binding tight. Bookseller Inventory Ask Seller a Question. About this title Synopsis: Neon Noir , the follow-up to Woody Haut's highly regarded Pulp Culture , brings the story of American crime fiction and the related films up to date.

Nice and Noir : Contemporary American Crime Fiction by Richard B. Schwartz (2002, Hardcover)

Like the private eye, the gangster is a romanticised figure, tough and purposeful, a performer who makes a dramatic show of masculine competence and vitality. What sets him apart are his upwardly mobile ambitions, the means by which he pursues them and the fictionally inescapable consequences of his overweening ambition — a career trajectory driven by a determination to scale the heights, an ending in which he plummets to his inevitable downfall. Cain we see the establishment of some of the most recurrent patterns of noir narratives, bringing to the fore characters so damaged and un-heroic that they stand small chance of emerging with their lives, let alone of achieving any of their ambitions.

The domestic dramas of James M. His protagonists pursue the American dream of success, and, as the prospect seems to glimmer seductively closer, they reach out to discover that they have secured nothing but defeat and entrapment. Postwar America and the Paperback Revolution In the prosperous years of postwar America, the Depression came to seem like an historical aberration. Unprecedented affluence and military-industrial expansion, however, took their toll, producing materialism and conformity and generating a national mood of self-righteous aggressiveness, directed against suspected Communists, of course, but more generally against anyone regarded as subversive or otherwise troublesome.

Cold war apprehensions and McCarthyite witch-hunts bred the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that is the dominant mood of both cinematic and literary noir from the s on. There are noir elements in the work of Spillane, but they are not predominant, nor were they the source of his commercial success. He was, in part, quite cynically appealing to the widest possible Cold War audience, and his sales were indeed extraordinary, with over fifteen million copies of his books sold in Signet editions by The Spillane phenomenon is a testimony to the popular staying power of crudely vigorous hard-boiled investigative fiction.

Amongst the most important of these writers were David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Charles Williams and Gil Brewer, all of whom joined Spillane in the s racks of cent paperback originals. Their work defined the nature of post- war noir, with morally ambivalent victims and criminals acting out the anxieties of mid-century American society. As in the Depression years, characters suffer more than their fair share of weary disillusionment and economic hardship, but the most striking themes of post-war noir are less to do with economic determinism than with the exclusion and displacement of characters who are too deviant to make themselves at home in a normative society.

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In his break-through novel, Dark Passage , Goodis repeatedly represented displaced characters, in full flight or in hiding, frightened, isolated, losing control of their lives, unable to return home. Walking the mean streets was, for the Goodis protagonist, a far more unnerving experience than it was for the heroes of hard-boiled pulp fiction: repetitive motion is combined with inherent immobility or paralysis.

To take an early example, Nightfall , filmed by Jacques Tourneur in is remarkable for its surreal and disorienting atmosphere and for the intensity with which it conveys the terror and paranoia of a man on the run. Cain, and, like them, he creates disaster-prone protagonists lacking the conventional defences of masculine competence and self- assertion. He addresses the reader directly, teasing and unreliable, inviting us to survey small-town society from the alienated position of a psychopath who is also a scathing observer, confiding to us his interchangeable methods — murder and satire — of punishing the depravity and hypocrisy of his townsfolk.

Numerous writers who had emerged in earlier decades were still publishing in the s for example, Ross Macdonald, John D.

Nice and noir : contemporary American crime fiction, Richard B. Schwartz, (electronic resource)

Other writers, however, have transformed the tradition in ways that either accentuate the mood and themes of noir or that play subversively with the identity and ethos of the lone white male. Following on from the transgressor-centered novels of earlier periods, there has been an increasing number of crime novels that throw the emphasis on to the commission of the crime rather than its solution, even within the structure of an investigative narrative. Modifying the tradition can also be a more highly politicized way of challenging its underlying assumptions and ethos, as in the work of a growing number of black and female crime writers.

For both groups of writers hard-boiled fiction has proven to be the most compelling model and, for the purposes of self- definition, the key point of reference. The subject-position in such narratives is a marginal one, located outside entrenched power structures, but it is nonetheless one that is enabling and one with which readers can identify.

50 Must-Read Noir Detective Novels - Barnes & Noble Reads — Barnes & Noble Reads

Just as in earlier hard-boiled fiction, of course, the performance of tough masculinity often turns out to conceal actual impotence in the face of overwhelming odds. His detectives, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger, though manifestly tough, are incapable of resolving the distress and conflict amongst people who are victims of American capitalism and racism. In this final novel, the eruption of violence was based on an actual incident, but becomes symbolic of the repressed rage and ultimate helplessness of Harlem inhabitants, detectives included.

Having seized a gun as a means of masculine empowerment, he brings destruction on himself, though he arguably also, in the moment of his action, overcomes the impotence of the oppressed and victimized. Many other black crime novelists have made their reputations in recent decades - over thirty new writers since the end of the , by far the best known being Walter Mosley, whose Easy Rawlins series was introduced with Devil in a Blue Dress in Engaging in a restrained, consciously crafted way with earlier traditions of hard-boiled crime writing, Mosley reaches back into L.

Devil in a Blue Dress opens with a reminder of how embedded a white racializing perspective is in the L. The qualities retained tend to be instrumental, with the tough performance of the female private eye demonstrating tenacity and self-reliance. What is transformed is her relationship to the social and moral contexts within which she operates.

The combination can readily be seen, for example, in the work of Paretsky, who signals her resistance to a masculine value system by giving V.

SAMPLE READING LIST: American Hard-boiled and Noir Crime Fiction, 1920-1960

Warshawski such attributes as compassion, communal solidarity and reluctance to act violently unless it is a matter of life and death. Warshawski is involved rather than isolated, adhering to an ethic of responsibility rather than the personal code of a Marlowe or a Sam Spade. This larger society is in most respects beyond redemption, and the female investigator, although she may achieve partial success, is finally no match for an entrenched masculine establishment.

As in the male hard-boiled tradition, a central element in plotting is the discovery that what seems at first to be personal is actually only a small effect of routine, large- scale official wrongdoing, in the face of which the investigator can only resolve things within the most narrow limits. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Bailey, Frankie Y. New York and Westport, Conn. Breu, Christopher Hard-Boiled Masculinities.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Cain, James M. The Five Great Novels. London: Picador. Chandler, Raymond The Simple Art of Murder.

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New York: Vintage Crime. Three Novels. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Cobley, Paul Basingstoke: Macmillan. Cochran, David Washington DC: Smithsonian Books. Forter, Greg Goodis, David Berkeley: Black Lizard. Hammett, Dashiell The Four Great Novels. Hilfer, Tony Austin: University of Texas Press. Himes, Chester Edinburgh: Payback Press.


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Horsley, Lee The Noir Thriller. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Building a Mystery: Four Writers on Crafting Crime Fiction

Irons, Glenwood, ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Klein, Kathleen Gregory The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Knight, Stephen Crime Fiction, Detection, Death, Diversity. Marling, William McCoy, Horace Mosley, Walter Devil in a Blue Dress. London: Pan. Munt, Sally R. Murder by the Book? Feminism and the Crime Novel.

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