More on Noir

Yesterday I mentioned how wonderful I found the Spartacus TV show. Today I’m confessing that I finally got around to reading Raymond Chandler’s first Phillip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep. Wow. Talk about lovely, evocative writing. Sure, I’m ┬ájust as puzzled as everyone else about who really killed the chauffeur, but what fine, fine prose.

My fascination with noir continues and I’m bouncing back and forth between Hammet stories of the Continental Op, Frederick Nebel stories about MacBride and Kennedy, Marlowe novels, and the Quarry books by Max Allan Collins. Collins is impressing me more and more, sort of the way Donald Westlake/Richard Stark did, in that the more I read of his work the more I come to appreciate how finely tuned the engines are in what seem, upon first glance, pretty simple vehicles. They’re not really simple at all, no more than a still life by a master painter is simply a snapshot of a bowl of fruit.

I came upon the Quarry books at just the right time, because I see that a TV series based around the character is now in the works. Should be interesting. I can imagine, though, that like Spartacus and Justified, it probably won’t be something I can watch with the rest of the family.

My friend Kevin Cook was noting some Zelazny feel to my fiction the other day, at least as far as some of the ethics of my heroes. I think I’d pretty much developed my own style at this point, but when I questioned him on it he said something interesting I’ll get to in a moment. You see, some twenty years back all of my prose sounded like a bad Zelazny pastiche. I imagine a lot of writers end up with sophomore efforts that sound like their favorite authors. Anyway, I’ve been reading a whole lot of noir, so when Kevin said that he could see some Zelazny style character stuff in Stalking the Beast I remarked that I’m surprised he didn’t see more noir, as the Lisette character definitely has a bit of a Parker vibe to her. Kevin then pointed out that Zelazny was heavily influenced by noir himself, and suggested the opening of Nine Princes in Amber owes a lot to a Cornell Woolrich story, “The Black Curtain.”

It’s fascinating how connected all of this stuff is. I feel like my own fiction is growing stronger via cross genre pollination, and clearly it worked for some of my favorite writers before me.


14 Comments on “More on Noir

  1. I finally picked up the first Nolan and Quarry books based on your’s and others’ comments here a week or so ago. I’m really looking forward to them and hopefully finishing off the Parker and Grofeld books this year. I’ve really come to see a connection between S&S and hardboiled this past year or so I never really thought about before. A lot is the simple similarity of a solo character struggling to win in cynical, unforgiving world.

    • I didn’t realize how lucky we were to have access to all of this great stuff. Apparently, until very recently much of this fiction was out of print.

  2. Fletcher, S&S and noir are my two favorite subgenres to read.

    Howard, I’m glad you’re reading Chandler. He’s great. I’ve not read the Nebel stories you mentioned, but I love all the others. The Op is probably my favorite. I’ve heard Hammett based much of his fiction on real cases. Don’t know how true it is; probably a Ph.D. thesis there is someone hasn’t done it already. Let me suggest Charles Williams as well. The Hard Case edition of A Touch of Death should still be available; that’s a good place to start.

    Collins is a master at what he does. If the Quarry TV show is true to the books, it will definitely be something you can’t watch with your family.

    • Hey Keith, so far I’m loving Chandler and merely appreciating Hammett. Nebel and Collins are ticking my clock a little more than Chandler, but I’m giving it a little more time.

      I’m pretty thrilled that Mr. Collins himself dropped by to say hello. As much as I’m enjoying Quarry I’ll definitely be trying Nate Heller, but probably not until I’ve read more Marlowe. Incidentally, I’m definitely seeing more and more that Zelazny pulled some inspiration from Marlowe…

  3. Thanks for your lovely comments. What is oddest about the Quarry series, from my perspective, is that the first four books were written between 1972 and 1976, with one more book in the mid-’80s. Then Hard Case Crime invited me to write another, which I intended as the final book — THE LAST QUARRY, a few years ago. But the response was so good I wrote another called THE FIRST QUARRY…and now I am writing these books in “period.” I’m writing one called QUARRY’S CHOICE set in 1972. How weird is that? From my biased view, the more recent ones are the best.

    Thank you again. Be sure to try my Nate Heller books sometime.

  4. My favorite Chandler is The Long Goodbye, though I do like The Big Sleep. I’ve been reading Max Allan Collins since I was a teenager and he’s still a favorite. Since you like Richard Stark, you should also try Collins’ books about professional thief Nolan. (bait Money, Blood Money, Hard Cash, etc) And yes, give Nate Heller a try.

    • Hey Charles — I’ll be reading Collins for a while to come, I’m sure. It seems like a lot of us sword-and-sorcery readers are hard boiled fans. Except I wasn’t until recently…

      As to Marlowe books, so far I’m enjoying Farewell My Lovely a few notches more than The Big Sleep. Looking forward to seeing how it all works out.

  5. FAREWELL, MY LOVELY is the great Chandler novel in my opinion.

    THE MALTESE FALCON is the greatest private eye novel. Hammett defined, perfected and abandoned it in that one book.

    ONE LOVELY NIGHT is the great Spillane novel, though reading one of two other earlier ones first probably would be helpful.

    I read a lot of sword and sorcery as a teen, have always liked the genre, and my son (who translates novels, manga and games from Japanese to English) is a huge fan of Robert Jordan and others in that fantasy arena, Seems to me Burroughs is related to sword and sorcery, and I read him as a kid voraciously, and used him as the hero of my novel THE PEARL HARBOR MURDERS. Because of the historical nature of much of what I write, my reading time is mostly taken up by non-fiction research, so I don’t read much fiction of any kind these days.

    Thanks to all for the nice words.

  6. From what I’ve seen of your work so far, all the nice words are well deserved.

    I appreciate you weighing in on the authors above, because I’m still feeling my way through the genre. I just read your introduction to a collection of the first three Mike Hammer novels. With it in my possession, perhaps I’ll try I, THE JURY, before ONE LOVELY NIGHT.

    There’s a lot of us out here who believe in a strong connection between sword-and-planet and hard boiled. Surely the best example of that is the late, great Leigh Brackett, who grew up reading and loving Burroughs and worked with Bogey. All of her space opera/sword-and-planet reads pretty hard boiled.

    I’d be curious to hear if you had any opinion on Frederick Nebel. And if you don’t mind, how do you rank the other Marlowe novels? Are they all worth a read?

  7. Howard, you’ve really got a put a subscribe to comments button on these posts. I got busy with classes starting up and missed much of the conversation until now.

    And since we’ve been throwing out suggestions, let me suggest Lawrence Blocks Matt Scudder series. They’re best read in order as Scudder undergoes some major character development as he descends deeper into alcoholism, then struggles to get sober. The first few are pretty generic, but then they really take off.

  8. Robert E. Howard has been referred to as a ‘hard-boiled fantasist’ and I think that definitely applies. Frank Miller referred to his Mike Hammer-ish hero Marv as “Conan in a trench coat.” A lot of folks have drawn comparisons between private detectives and cowboys as examples of the self-determining hero, and I think you could add Conan, Solomon Kane, and other S&S heroes to that mix.
    I absolutely love Spillane, so let me know what you think of the Hammer books when you get there.

  9. Pingback: Farewell, Something Lovely : Howard Andrew Jones

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