Tag Archives: Noir Crime Fiction

Noir Art | Victor Kalin

Noir Art Victor Kalin

Victor Kalin (this reminds me so much of Parker) (via mudwerks.tumblr.com)

Victor Kalin is a remarkably obscure noir artist. Although he has garnered an impressive amount of acclaim in recent years, there is relatively little data about his life available. He was born in Belleville in 1919 and died in 1991. He attended the University of Kansas during the ’40s. Throughout his professional career, he was an illustrator, a painter, and a teacher. Walt Reed (Illustrator in America) said of Victor:

“[Kalin’s] first illustrations were done for The American Weekly but for many years the majority of his pictures were painted for paperback book covers.Unlike many artists who develop a strong, easily identifiable technique, he was so interested in experimentation that his work looked continually new.”

Victor was extremely skilled at composing a cover, each element dramatically sized and spaced to create continually fascinating results. His strength appears to be his fluidity– easily transitioning from realism to abstract stylings when a fresh approach serves the piece. Kalin doesn’t seem to have a definable style, as his strokes, textures, and contrasts vary continually; affording his work a freshness that sets him apart from his contemporaries. In the competitive world that was pulp cover illustration, Victor’s flexibility granted him innumerable victories and contracts. I love his work– it has always struck me as brilliantly wrought, a narrative style of illustration that begs the viewer to look deeper.

Victor Kalin Pulp

Deadly Beloved by Willaim Ard, Cover by Victor Kalin (via flickr.com)

Pulp Covers Victor Kalin

The Great Mistake by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Noir Artist Victor Kalin

The Lineup by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Illustration Victor Kalin

Assignment: Murder by Donald Hamilton, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Victor Kalin Illustrator

Suddenly A Corpse by Hal Masur, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Victor Kalin Paintings

Hang by Your Neck by Henry Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Victor Kalin Noir Art

The Five Pennies by Grady Johnson, Cover by Victor Kalin

Victor Kalin Noir Artist

Murder on Broadway by Hal Masur, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Noir Fiction Victor Kalin

Green Light for Death by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Noir Crime Fiction Victor Kalin

Grave Danger by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Noir Artist Victor Kalin

The Murder Room by Paul E. Walsh, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Victor Kalin Pinup

Have Nude, Will Travel by Clyde Allison, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Pin-up Victor Kalin

Blackmail, Inc. by Robert Kyle, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Femme Fatale Victor Kalin

Trigger Mortis by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Victor Kalin Femme Fatales

Slay Ride by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)

Noir Art Victor Kalin

A Real Gone Guy by Frank Kane, Cover by Victor Kalin (via pulpcovers.com)


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Noir Crime Fiction | The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

Noir Crime Fiction The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

My Copy (Cover Art by Charles Pyle)

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter is as ambitious a work of noir as any I’ve ever read. Presented as three separate novels, wrapped in the same binding, telling the story of a tortured author across decades. This daring undertaking is further complicated by his literary approach, channeling the prose styles of three noir fiction legends; Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. With such an innovative narrative, I feel my normal style of review too clumsy an effort, especially when paired with the elegant depth and scope of Mr. Winter’s work. I’ve agonized over the correct approach, and decided to forgo my traditional noir definition run down; instead opting for a simpler book-by-book evaluation. Let it suffice to say that his books are indisputably noir, with each defining element meticulously observed. The Twenty-Year Death is the magnum opus of a noir-loving madman.

Book 1- Malniveau Prison

Pelleter shook his head, trying to soften his expression. “You never can tell. Later, afterwards, of course, and then you wonder if you always knew.” He considered his words. “Men are capable of anything.”

A small town in France in 1931, a dead body and a missing person– a classic noir opener to stage act one of the novel. Chief Inspector Pelleter, a cigar smoking veteran from the city, must expose the filthy underbelly of pristine Verargent while challenging shy citizens who like their secrets buried. A complex tapestry emerges, composed of Simenon-esque methodical stitchwork, and two seemingly unimportant side characters shift into focus; A boozing American author, Shem Rosenkrantz, and his very young French wife, Clotilde-ma-Fleur. Winter’s treatment of the narrative is impressive, his channeled Simenon convincing if not perfect.

“I’m just about finished with the case.”

She looked at him then, but it didn’t look as though she saw him. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It might not. But for the living, it’s all we can ever do.”

Ariel S. Winter Noir Author

Ariel S. Winter (via thelosangelesbeat.com)

Book 2- The Falling Star

I had been hired to babysit a paranoid prima donna, and I had ended up finding a dead woman cut almost to pieces. For some reason, I felt as though I hadn’t done a very good job.

Ten years pass, and Shem and his french wife (who now goes by Chloe Rose) have become permanent fixtures in Hollywood. He’s a quickly sinking author, now spending his evaporating talent writing for porn-rags, while living large on Chloe’s widespread fame as a golden-era film starlet. The narrator is another investigator, this time a private eye named Dennis Foster, hired to investigate claims that Chloe is being stalked. What he uncovers is a climate of corruption and scandal that too many who want him out of. Written in the metaphor heavy style of Raymond Chandler, even the plot feels like genuine imitation; Foster a carbon-copy of the incorruptible Phillip Marlowe. The Falling Star is an homage to powerful men in their prime, and how they become victims of their own success and desires. Trying themes of adultery, homosexuality, pornography, violence, and murder coalesce in a novel that feels straight from Chandler’s pen.

Gilplaine moved his mouth like he had just tasted something sour. “My men tell me you tried to bring a gun into my club.”
I shrugged. “I thought I might need it.”
“And what do you think now?”
“I was right.”

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

Shem Rosenkrantz by Charles Pyle (via edrants.com)

Book 3- Police at the Funeral

She faked shock, raising her hand to her mouth in the perfect oops pose. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she said, and then she made herself ugly by laughing.

Another ten years pass, and we’re nearing the only possible conclusion; the inevitable one that keeps us turning the pages and feeds the gloomy pit in our guts. 1951, and Shem Rosenkrantz is our narrator. He’s a picture of paranoia, on and off the wagon and bleeding from debt, a pattern that perpetually forces him into greater feats of lunacy. His deranged wife is now a shut-in at the Enoch White Clinic in California, but Shem’s back home in Calvert Maryland– attending to the will of his recently dead ex-wife Quinn, desperate for a piece of her inheritance. Forget the family- man slant–he’s brought along his prostitute girlfriend Vee, and you can bet her eye is on the dough while she’s working the week for the local mob boss. When Shem sees his son Joe for the first time in years, he realizes that he’s more desperate for his affection than anything else- a yearning that may not be fulfilled this late in his life. Act 3 in The Twenty-Year Death is the darkest tonally of the trio, and Shem’s pained narration is loaded with gravitas. I felt that Police at the Funeral was vaguely Brubaker-ian (new word anyone?)– we watch Shem make poor decision after poor decision, and his self destructive choices constrict all hope from the plot.

“All you care about is that somebody’s read your damn books. Well nobody has.”
She said that just to hurt me. And it worked every time. We were like a broken record, having the same fight over and over, and still each word squeezed me tighter and tighter.

Upon completing all three novels, the final product felt magnetic and beautiful– a torturous picture of a life destroyed. Police at the Funeral was my personal favorite, but Malniveau Prison and The Falling Star were essential to its construction. Each novel added to the last, strangely without feeling like sequels, each a self contained and wildly different narrative. Cheers to Mr. Winter on what is sure to be considered an instant noir fiction classic. He spent so much time imitating the prose stylings of different authors, I can’t wait to read his own.

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Noir Crime Fiction | Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins (cover)

Target Lancer is a new Nate Heller novel set to release on November 27th of this year. When Mr. Collins contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing it, I almost passed out because the excitement that exploded in my guts flattened my brain to the top of my skull. Now that I’ve recovered and read the novel, I’m eager to give you a sneak peek at the wonderful contents. This review, unlike nearly all of my others, will be as spoiler free as possible.

Nate Heller, aging ‘private eye to the stars’ and director of the prestigious A-1 Detective Agency, is embroiled in a high-profile assassination plot. The target: Lancer, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The catch: the stage is Chicago, not Dallas, and it’s a month prior to November 22nd, 1963.

The book is filled with some of the biggest historical actors of the era; Names like Hoffa, Monroe, Hoover, Rand, Giancana, and Kennedy. I was impressed with Max’s confident (and daring) take on these characters where most authors would be afraid to risk a portrayal that might seem phony. His treatment of the era and these big name individuals actually had the opposite effect. Each of them seemed very genuine and most meticulous in their presentation. I could tell instantly that Max had spent countless hours researching and tapping into not only the stories surrounding them, but the personalities that would create such stories. Target Lancer is as much a work of historical fiction as it is a crime thriller, and when the genres collide under Max’s direction the results are quite sexy.

“You gotta stand for a frisk.”

“I’m not armed.”

“Rules is rules.”

Before I let him pat me down, I gave him my damp raincoat and hat to dispose of, just out of general disrespect, thinking this would have been an excellent time to shoot him, if that was why I was here.

A work of noir crime fiction by noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting of Target Lancer is primarily Chicago– gangland skin-joints, ethnic delis, and a private box at “da Bears” game. Heller does take a dip down to Miami for a clandestine meeting with “The Outfit”–you won’t want to miss it.

2) The Anti-Hero

Nate Heller is our anti-hero. He’s a little older, a little slower, but perhaps wiser than his younger self (at least he’s less compulsive, right?). Heller is connected across the continent, from the slimiest saps to the most high profile stars, and he’s become a dealer in secrets. I really enjoy reading Nate, he’s a unique narrator that gives you the unfiltered scoop, even when it makes him look bad. Half the time he’s about to die he’s cracking-wise about it, reminding you that its just as ridiculous as you think it is.

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

3) The Femme Fatale

Helen Beck aka Sally Rand is the femme fatale of Target Lancer, and her addition to the story has a humanizing effect on Nate’s character. She’s an aging burlesque star, known for her famous nude fan-dance at the ’33 World’s Fair, coping with the complications that come from growing old in a vocation that’s based on your looks. Her and Nate have a deep connection, a romance that isn’t exactly fatal, but it gives Nate something to lose.

4) Misogyny

The brand of noir misogyny you’ll find in the pages of Target Lancer is the best kind. It’s misogyny that the anti-hero hates but the supporting cast adopts. Nate’s a gentlemen and a respecter of women, even though he’s a bit of a playboy– but the world that he lives in is still caught in the spiral of objectification, sexual transaction, and gender inequality. If Mad Men is representative of the 1960’s, then Nate Heller is Don Draper with a conscience.

5) Redemption

Nate likes defeat even less than he likes being used, and when a client is killed under suspicious circumstances, he makes the game personal. Target Lancer is loaded with intellectual redemption of classic noir faire, but Nate also has plenty of opportunities to save his own skin; Working with the mob isn’t easy.

6) Eroticism

I felt that the eroticism in the novel was primarily that of ‘the tease.’ Several scenes occur in reputable and disreputable strip-clubs, and Nate’s main squeeze is a veteran fan-dancer… connect the dots- there’s memorable provocative and erotic moments in Target Lancer.

7) Loss of Innocence

Nate’s digging leads him down roads better left untraveled. As the evidence piles up surrounding the assassination of JFK, he’s not thrilled by the conclusions, and he’s concerned that such conclusions will have him looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.

8 ) Smoke

Nate Heller is a walking Lucky Strike commercial. Throw in some Cuban intrigue and you’ve got baggage that reeks of cigars. You’ll get major scent memory as you turn the pages, which is just what we want from slick noir.

9) Immasculation

The fear of immasculation is generally a driving theme in most noir crime fiction, but I found it to be absent in Target Lancer. Nate is not insecure. He’s collected and confident, a man unafraid to laugh at himself or to make a joke to cut the tension. I liked that. One thing I noticed is the outward show of masculinity that many of the other characters put forward, especially Hoffa and the mob men. It was fascinating.

I really loved Target Lancer, you will too. Head over to Amazon and pre-order this baby.

Target Lancer

The copy Max sent me (giggles*)

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Noir Crime Fiction | “False Negative” by Joseph Koenig

Noir Crime Fiction False Negative Joseph Koenig

False Negative by Joseph Koenig (Cover Art by Glen Orbik)

“I’ll call you,” she said.
“You don’t have my number.”
“I had it from the start.”

False Negative is true-all-the-way-through noir crime fiction. Joseph Koenig’s punchy pulp prose, married to a remarkable attention to detail creates a setting that begs for a sinister plot and gets more than it bargained for…

Adam Jordan is a dedicated newsman who asks all the right questions. When he finds himself out of the job, he’s shocked by a call from the editor-in-chief of “Real Detective” (a pulp monthly) who says he’ll pay Jordan a nickle per word for true crime stories. Before long he’s embroiled in a caper where beauty queens, party girls, and aspiring actresses are being murdered in droves–and if he’s not careful, he’s sure to join them.

“We pay better than the papers, because good crime writers are harder to find than inventive killers.”

Koenig surprised me with this one. I was very impressed with the thoughtful and calculating nature of his style, but I admit that it takes a few pages to get clued in to his rhythm. Sometimes the story would shift so rapidly from one character to the next that I felt it was frequently disjointed. Additionally, he seemed very at ease in the time-period. All of the lingo/jargon/slang of the era seemed like it fit- but it was also confusing at times- the story is so true to it’s own vernacular that it never calls “time out” to fill in the rest of us.

I love the fact that Koenig was a former crime reporter, because it comes through powerfully in his rhetoric. He frequently speaks as if journalists and the media are the “fourth branch of government.” One example:

A good reporter followed up on everything the cops did. Without newsmen looking over their shoulder, Jordan believed most police departments were worthless bureaucracies…But Halloran wasn’t happy to see Jordan coming to his door. Jordan supposed that no cop ever was. He took it as evidence that he did his job well.

Also, Adam Jordan’s character is so richly woven because Joseph has written himself in. The broadest stroke of genius was to immerse the main character in so many different crimes (potential stories he could write, or did write throughout False Negative), because it makes the reader grasp for connections that aren’t really there. I was constantly wondering if the current murder I was reading about had anything to do with the central plot, and this created powerful bonds between myself and Adam Jordan; We were left asking the same questions. In that way, this mystery/thriller is possibly the most immersive I’ve ever read.

“Everyone was an authority on murder. Everyone, from Jordan’s experience, but the practitioners.”

Koenig never shies away from historical events and figures– a frequent weakness in noir crime fiction. It seems that most authors are afraid to introduce any character that might be recognized in history, because someone will point out where they went wrong. Not so with False Negative, which makes several references to famous folk of the era, and even features a complete ‘cameo’ of Louis Armstrong. I felt that this lent credibility to the novel, because the book often read like historical fiction.

Noir Definition Round-up:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The majority of the novel takes place in Atlantic City; but it’s the off-season, and the cold has driven tourists and locals alike away from the beaches of the Jersey Shore. Koenig’s hand with detail creates just the level of stink we’d expect in the filthy high-rises and private, yet sinister, parties.

“Was there an emptier feeling than to return alone to a city you’d stopped calling home?”

2) The Anti-Hero

Adam Jordan is a particular, egotistical, and self-absorbed writer, whose sense of self-importance is constantly at odds with the opinions of those who hate him. He’s a music snob, a chain-smoker, and he offends the women in his life because he can’t commit. But! he’s damn good at investigation, even if he’s a poor judge of character.

“He doesn’t care if you like him,” Greenstein said. “All he likes are faces. He’s married to them, he worships them. Adam Jordan never takes a fact in vain, so help him God. Give him the facts, just the facts, ma’am, like that cop on TV says.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Several women could foot-the-bill of femme fatale in False Negative, but they’re stripped of their potency. Koenig has written these women who aspire to be femme fatales, but only end up killing themselves.

“Don’t look scandalized, you didn’t know women use their loveliness in ways got nothing to do with love. Figure it give ’em power over men, when it’s the other way ’round.”

4) Misogyny

The book is overflowing with ambitious women, women who want to be famous but don’t realize the cost. Private parties are thrown for old men who wield power and influence, where young women have their innocence devoured wholesale. Only one woman in the book isn’t a completely helpless waif, but even she isn’t role-model.

“What do you know about beautiful women?” He knew that the prettiest girls he’d dated were the most insecure. None were as gorgeous as Mollie Gordon, or filled with as much self-doubt.

5) Redemption

Adam Jordan is constantly seeking the personal validation that would come from becoming a successful writer. He also seeks the intellectual redemption that accompanies the solving of a mystery, and the satisfaction of cornering a killer. Even though he cannot undo what has happened, he feels he can redeem those murdered by understanding how they came to be killed, and preventing further victims in the future.

“He scraped the sand from her cheek, and tilted it toward himself. She was a beautiful woman dead for several hours whose looks hadn’t begun to fade. He reproached himself for being sentimental. Beauty was the cheap accolade that newsmen rewarded automatically to female victims of murder.”

Joseph Koenig

Joseph Koenig

6) Eroticism

A silky thread of sexuality runs through the novel- some beautiful and freeing, some depraved and horrifying. I would say that this book approaches eroticism, but never really arrives.

“Suzie Chase was the wrong kind of beautiful.”

7) Loss of Innocence

Some of the most difficult scenes to read are seen through the eyes of the killer. He’s not satisfied with merely snuffing the life out of a woman, he must control her first- bend her to his will, even destroy her if he must, before he steals her life. Rape is never comfortable to read, I’m sure it’s equally uncomfortable to write.

She felt tears welling, but wouldn’t let them come. They were a part of herself she was able to keep him from having. “I hope you die,” she said.

8 ) Smoke

Adam Jordan never goes anywhere without his “Lucky’s.” A thought occurred to me while I was reading this book: I wonder if the reason that smoke is such a prevalent theme in noir crime fiction is because it’s a unifier. It brings people together, they bum a smoke or share a light, just like they share their bed or various crimes. It’s a fire that burns between them, and they breath the smoke together- it scorching the same trails in their lungs and bloodstreams. I don’t know, perhaps there’s more to explore there…

She put a cigarette between her lips, leaned close, and touched the tip to Jordan’s, blew smoke past his cheek.

9) Emasculation

Although he never says it, Jordan is afraid of being a failure. This fear applies to both his professional life and his personal life (especially where women are concerned).  The women in his life, particularly Mollie and Cherise, always get the best of him. No matter how diligent or attentive he is to either, they never react the way he anticipates.

“Facing down an empty first page held no terror for him. He’d been doing it for years.”

False Negative is methodical noir that isn’t encumbered by all of the cliches and tropes you’ve come to expect. If you haven’t read him before, Joseph Koenig has some surprises for you.

“On his nightstand was a stack of books he’d been meaning to read, but writers who finished what they started gave him a sour feeling.”

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Noir Crime Fiction | Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy

Noir Crime Fiction Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye Horace McCoy

From Open Road Media

He still didn’t move. When I extended my arm he just looked at the gun. It was no more than eighteen inches from his face. I squeezed the trigger and the bullet hit him in the left eye and a drop of fluid squirted and the eyelid fell over the hole as a window shade falls over a pane of darkness. There was no blood at all.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is a wonderful noir crime fiction tale from Horace McCoy. His prose is brutal to the taste, a vintage flavor that slides down your throat and slugs you in the gut. Within the first pages you are greeted by Ralph, a cruel protagonist who’s prone to violence and the short-con. He’s stuck in a California pen, picking melons with labor gangs of criminals and plotting an escape.

I was surprised by the gripping intensity of the novel, it reads “thriller” with a capital “T”. This effect is heightened by the fluidity of the prose; a semi-committed half-conscious half-present narrative style that thinks more frequently than it speaks and lies enough to make us uncomfortable. A fuzzy yet bitter morality is the only thing separating Ralph from sociopathy, and each page takes us deeper into his troubling psychosis.

Horace McCoy’s prose is entirely his own, the only comparable author that I’ve sampled personally is James Cain, a veritable master of the noir genre. McCoy’s metaphors aren’t the tired regurgitations we’ve come to accept contemporarily, and he spins a yarn that is as effortless as it is entertaining.

Here’s a quick noir definition rundown of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Old California, when arrest records were lost from state to state, and a quick switch of your license plates was all it took to lose Johnny Law.

The Marakeesh Apartments were on the corner where the bus had stopped, a two-story brick building that looked cheap and rundown, as if what went on inside was exactly what you suspected.

2) The Anti-Hero

Ralph is a frightening portrait of a hero. Egotistical, self-centered, and surprisingly violent, he skirts the unpleasant area between dislike and disgust. The real magic of his characterization is when you realize you’re rooting for him, silently agreeing with his angry assessments.

‘You’re sweet. I adore you,’ I said, feeling a fine fast exhilaration that today was the day that I was going to kill him, that I was finally going to kill him as soon as I got my hands on those pistols I was going to kill him.

3) The Femme Fatale

Holiday is a babe with all the right moves, a femme fatale who’s as manipulative as she is pretty. She understands the price of controlling the men in her life, and she’s more than willing to pay it.

4) Misogyny

This noir crime fiction joins the ranks of other misogynistic works of the era; a dame is only as good as what she can do in the bedroom.

5) Redemption

Unlike the intellectual redemption themes that we find in detective based noir, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye highlights the illegal activities of Ralph and his associates. It seems their redemption comes from success, from cash and freedom.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye Horace McCoy

Horace McCoy (via independent.co.uk)

6) Eroticism

Actually, this novel is particularly tame in its approach to sexuality. But it’s only tame in details, not frequency.

She smiled at me, unbuckling her trousers but not unbuttoning the fly, slipping them off, arching her shoulders against the back seat to raise her buttocks out of the way. Her legs were slim and white. I could see the skin in minutest detail, the pigments and pores and numberless valley-cracks that crisscrossed above her knees, forming patterns that were as lovely and intricate as snow crystals. And there was something else I saw too out of the corner of my left eye, and I tried not to look, not because I didn’t want to, not because of modesty, but only because when you had waited as long as I had to see one of these you want it to reveal itself at full length, sostenuto.

7) Loss of Innocence

Ralph’s utter disregard for human life is the alarming thread that wraps itself around this book. If you’re between him and the score, you’ll be removed.

‘Jesus. Ralph,’ Jinx said, as we drove out. ‘You shouldn’t a done that. He’s lame.…’
‘So much more reason why he ought to be careful what he says to me,’ I said.

8 ) Smoke

The smoke in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is the ever present reminder that this is work of noir crime fiction, and a damn good one at that.

9) Emasculation

Ralph is dangerous because he’ll allow himself to be emasculated. Taunt him, hurt him, swindle him and you’ll feel like you’ve gotten away with it; that he’s a ‘nance’ pushover or something equally spineless. Later, when you’ve forgotten him entirely, he pays you back.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy is a great piece of vintage crime fiction. Get a copy.

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Noir Crime Fiction | Lady, Go Die! by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane

Noir Crime Fiction Lady Go Die

Lady, Go Die! by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane

“Lady Godiva herself,” I said.
“More like lady go die,” Velda said, in hushed horror.

Lady, Go Die! is an epic noir collaboration between two amazing authors from different eras. I was delighted that Max Allan Collins’ style blended so seamlessly with Mickey Spillane’s, and gave us another chapter in the Mike Hammer mythos. Rescued from a wealth of unpublished material after Spillane’s death, the “brittle, yellow single-spaced pages” of Lady, Go Die! were quite the find, and beg the question “What else does the deceased master have in store for us?” Max relates,

A week before his death, Mickey Spillane told his wife Jane, “When I’m gone, there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max–he’ll know what do do.” Lady, Go Die! constituted perhaps the most exciting find. As I read the manuscript, I realized this was something quite special…”

To those who take issue with Mickey “passing the torch” in this manner I say: If Mickey trusts Max, I trust Max. I’m glad I did. The teaser:

Mike Hammer needs a vacation. With buxom secretary in tow, a promise to lay off the sauce, and a hope for relaxation he leaves the bustle of Manhattan and arrives in the sedated, beach-side village of Sidon. Before long, he stumbles upon a scene of police brutality and uncovers a chain of corruption that stretches all the way back to the big city. When a sexy husband-killing widow is found murdered, astride a horse statue naked in the center of town, the Private Eye’s instincts kick in, leading him on the hunt of a two-fold mystery: A serial murderer who preys on beautiful women and an illegal gambling racket where every town official is on the take.

“You know me, Louie. I’m not much of a gambler.”
A grave expression took over the jovial face. “You are the great gambler, Mike. You gamble your life.”

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

A noir crime fiction by noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

A beach front retreat before summer bloats is the back drop for this caper. Oceanside mansions, quaint hotels, and local diners- populated by the small-town salt of the earth.

2) The Anti- Hero

Mike Hammer is a bastion of masculinity. He’s as smart as he is violent, and understands that some folks just need killing. Prone to dabble in alcoholism and dames, he’s an anti-hero that skirts the line between Sam Spade and Parker.

I couldn’t stay a cop. All those rules and regulations drove me bugs. I had a more direct method for dealing with the bastards that preyed upon society–I just killed their damn asses.

3) The Femme Fatale

In Lady, Go Die! the dames are all femme fatales; my only question was which one would get Mike killed first.

Her mouth found mine and she trembled under me as our mouths surrendered to each other.
When I held her away from me, she was gasping, “That was the first time you ever did that, Mike.”
“I’ve wanted to for a long time,” I told her roughly.

4) Misogyny

Mike himself isn’t very misogynistic, but the overall tone of the novel is. The women in the story are completely male defined, and even the strongest of them (Velda) isn’t strong enough avoid becoming a victim…

5) Redemption

Redemption doesn’t appear to be a central theme beyond the intellectual redemption that comes from unraveling a mystery. From time to time Mike experiences fits of vengeance, but I wouldn’t call these redemptive in any way to his character. He seems more motivated by pride than anything.

6) Eroticism

Lady, Go Die! has a satisfyingly erotic tilt to it. Some of the best scenes in the book involve the attempted seduction of Mike Hammer, and the relentless tension between he and Velda. For the wary: this isn’t a romance novel, and the details are spared any graphics. In a word, titillation.

Before she could finish that thought, I reached up and gripped her dressing gown at the neck, then gave it a vicious yank. The light material of the wrapper ripped like paper. I tossed it away like a used tissue and had a look at my handiwork.

7) Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence is a central theme in this noir crime fiction, and is expected because of the serial killing angle. Lovely, pure, and innocent women are found strung up and nude, posed in the most degrading of fashions by a sadistic fiend. How can innocence exist in such a clime? As you read, remember that everyone is a suspect, no one above suspicion.

Noir Crime Fiction Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane

8 ) Smoke

The smoke curls from the end of a gun just as frequently as it curls from the end of a cigarette in this novel.

9) Emasculation

Mike doesn’t fear emasculation because it isn’t an option. He knows that even if he were to lose, the winner wouldn’t escape his punishment. Mr. Hammer never doubts himself, doesn’t allow others to take advantage of him or those he cares about, and never crumbles under the pressure. In this way he arrives as an escapee from a time-capsule of early noir; a vision of man as he should be.

“Ain’t you the one that–“
Velda stopped him again. “Shot down those two hoods in Times Square? That’s him. Showed a couple hundred people in a nightclub what a crook had for dinner, using a steak knife? One and the same. Got in Dutch with the police for making a perfectly good suspect unrecognizable? That’s him.”

Lady, Go Die! is a great gritty read and if you haven’t experienced Mike Hammer yet, here’s the place to start.

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Noir Crime Fiction | “Wasp-Waisted” by David Barrie

Noir Crime Fiction Wasp-Waisted by David Barrie

My Copy (Thanks John Law Media!)

“I only believe in what I see. You pursue naked truth; I prefer artful beauty.”

Wasp-Waisted by David Barrie is a noir crime fiction thriller from the UK-based publisher John Law Media. A Franck Guerin novel, the Parisian detective must infiltrate the highest circles of society to find a killer both talented and deadly. The novel is staking out a new edge of the genre, and calling itself “noir chic”: to steal a quote, think “hard-boiled characters in haute couture.” The result is titillating.

Franck Guerin is a recently wounded and somewhat disgraced member of an elite espionage branch of the French Government known as the DST. When his commanding officer reassigns him to a less demanding detail to be forgotten, fortune finds him hunting a killer across the front page headlines. A local news publication, Exposé, receives a breathtaking photo of a young beauty clad in exquisite lingerie, but she’s dead. The photo is of such depth and quality that it stirs the public into a frenzy and begs the questions, “what kind of murderer could have produced such a masterpiece?” and “will he kill again?”

“We have never been so assailed by images, captain. We hold onto very few of them, otherwise we probably could not continue to function. This photo would have to be something rare indeed were it to grant Rachida a form of immortality.”

David Barrie’s prose is an alloy comprised of two-parts Stieg Larsson and one-part Dan Brown. As I read, I felt keen mental reflections that drew me back to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Divinci Code; the former for its languid and methodical delivery and the latter for its attention to detail. His vocabulary is engaging without challenging, and I was tickled to read an author who obviously understands the euphoria of fastening a perfect word to a description. The research required to pen a work like Wasp-Waisted is respectable, and the resulting settings gave the impression of intimate or first-hand knowledge. All said, the delicate weave created by loose strands of plot are each pleasingly tied by the final page.

Here’s the noir definition rundown:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Wasp-Waisted refuses to languish in anything considered ‘seedy.’ Five-star hotels, luscious private dwellings, high-profile offices, and decadent art galleries serve as the backdrop of the book. Although all is not clean and bright, the novel does occasionally dip it’s toe in the stagnant pools of pornographers and strip clubs.

There is a lot of almost transparent fabric, like mist blown across her skin, mist suffused by patches of colour. If the light was more kind and the contrast more pronounced, you would have the impression that her body had been painted.

2) The Anti-Hero

Franck Guerin is more of a ‘hero’ and less of an ‘anti’. He’s burdened by an undetailed incident at his former post and the remaining wounds, but he’s level-headed and thorough. Franck demonstrates uncanny interrogation skills and a relentless nose for conspiracy and evidence. Sadly, his only weakness appears to be his lack of hygiene. I felt his character would have been better served had he shown some sort of change instead of the static ‘same at the end’ ‘come full circle’ approach.

3) The Femme Fatale

Who is the femme fatale in Wasp-Waisted? The better question would be ‘Who isn’t?’ Barrie’s best characters are the cunning beauties that inhabit the posh pages of this book. The most refreshing aspect of their design is their empowered nature, few are male-defined regurgitations of standard noir fare.

4) Misogyny

You would think that a novel that has so much to do with lingerie would be more misogynistic, but there is a surprising lack. Instead, we’re greeted by women arming themselves with the remnants of a male-dominated culture and seizing power with seductive ease. Although the victims are found exposed, poised on a lover’s altar in barely-there negligee, they are immortalized as un-violated and un-tasted goddesses of youth. The only misogyny burns in the breast of a scumbag pornographer, an isolated character like a pimple on an otherwise clean complexion.

That’s where the overwhelming sense of power comes from. Here you have two women apparently slumbering, two Sleeping Beauties dressed to entice and snare. It is the helplessness, the seeming passivity, that renders them irresistible – you cannot help but look; you cannot help but desire. The onlooker – traditionally the one with all the power, with the divine right to look anywhere and everywhere – is transformed, deprived of his capacity to choose. When he looks at these, his reaction may be one of admiration, reverence or lust, but it cannot be indifference. So what we have here, paradoxically, are photos of tyrants at the height of their powers.” “That’s a strange way to describe a pair of murder victims,” objected Franck. “The murder is not in the photo,” insisted Anne. “The murder is the context you supply when you tell me who it is and how she was found.” 

5) Redemption

Redemption seems to be the last thing on Guerin’s mind, which is shocking, considering the shameful and controversial origins of his demotion. Perhaps this is an arc that Barrie explores in a subsequent Franck Guerin novel? It’s hard to imagine a noir crime fiction without a redemption theme, but apparently it’s possible.

Noir Crime Fiction David Barrie

David Barrie

6) Eroticism

The noir theme of eroticism is portrayed in Wasp-Waisted beautifully. It’s possibly the most central theme of the book, that, or the nature of desire and beauty. One scene in particular comes to mind, when Franck must be ‘educated’ by a lingerie expert. As he’s invited to a private dinner in her residence, his lesson is far more intimate than he could have anticipated.

“A young woman in full possession of her body, of her beauty, of her sensuality, prepared to offer herself up, lending her being to the spectator. It was too …too … not too painful to behold, but too intimate to behold.”

7) Loss of Innocence

Each victim represents a spectacular loss of innocence, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of those that witness the photos. The film is so arresting that it forces you out of Eden and places your foot unwillingly in the grave.

8 ) Racism


9) Smoke

Surprisingly little. The best descriptions of cigarette smoke revolve around Franck’s old boss in the DST. She’s a chain-smoking bulldog. Franck, on the other hand, prefers coffee.

10) Emasculation

Franck seems to be very secure in his masculinity. This simultaneously helps and hinders his character because it frees him from the irrationality that accompanies the fear of emasculation and plagues him with the apathy that’s found in its place. Even though he seems to lack the fear of emasculation, he is a frequent victim of it throughout the book. With so many powerful females this seems an inevitable eventuality.

It’s fair to admit that I enjoyed this novel. I can definitely see myself reading more of Barrie’s work in the future.

As for the qualifying statement: “hard-boiled characters in haute couture,” while the fashion may have been present, I felt that Franck was decidedly ‘soft-boiled.’ In my view, ‘hard-boiled’ characters are defined by narrow escapes, insurmountable pressure, and self-destructive behaviors; Guerin doesn’t foot the bill (at least in Wasp-Waisted). Additionally, I’m not certain that this book necessitates the creation of the new genre moniker, ‘noir chic,’ but I like the idea. Perhaps if I delve into more of Barrie’s work I’ll find that the genre-vision becomes more of a reality and less of a sentiment.

“I saved them all. I captured their essence in photos that will be admired for as long as we continue to hold beauty a special form of truth. At the same time I ensured the immortality of those images by saving their subjects from their own errors of judgement and the ravages of time.”

The greatest shame of all is that David Barrie doesn’t have an American Publisher. You won’t be able to find his books on the shelves of your local store (unless your local store is in the UK or Europe), but his noir crime fiction is worth reading. Head over the Amazon.com and show him some support.

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Noir Crime Fiction | Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg

Noir Crime Fiction Blood on the Mink Robert Silverberg

Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg

Blood on the Mink is a time capsule of tasty noir crime fiction from beginning to end. The lost Robert Silverberg novel plummets several decades back, landing in Philadelphia gangland, and drowns in a hot pot of hardboiled intrigue. The young Silverberg is a cool-handed master of the craft, and makes the genre sing. The pacing of the work is near perfect, no stops or hiccups along the way, as the plot races towards its messy finish. Each page brings an additional dose of anxiety, and as you round the halfway mark you’re the helpless passenger careening off the cliff. Although the novel is relatively short, it’s long with satisfaction; All the devilishly seductive bits we’ve come to love in noir. And after the curtains have fallen, Hard Case Crime delivers two of Silverberg’s heavy-hitting short stories to cleanse the pallet.

Blood on the Mink is plot four parts Parker, one part Bond, and ninety-nine parts machismo. A counterfeit ring in Philly has been pumping out nearly untraceable ‘queer’ (counterfeit bills), and the government sends an undercover agent in place of a mob boss’ right hand man to deal with it. Posing as the mean Californian Vic Lowney, the agent must stare down villains, dames, and crisscrossing double-crossers if he’s going come out unscathed in the end.

Here’s the noir definition breakdown:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Silverberg’s descriptions of the seedy underworld of Philly have a snarky humor about them. As if he’s simultaneously praising and slighting the City of Brotherly Love. The climate of the scenes is old school, a time when men wore suits and overcoats when they went out to get the paper.

“Philadelphia at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning is just one big morgue. The corpses don’t start stirring until ten or eleven.”

2) The Anti-Hero

We don’t discover the name of our anti-hero until the last two pages of the book, and we certainly don’t get to know who he really is. Why? Because not even he knows. As Vic Lowney, he’s a mean sonnovabitch who likes pushing people’s buttons as much as he likes his steak rare and his women busty. He’s in the midst of a constant strategic powerplay, pissing off every hood he meets while earning their fear and respect. You’ll love him. He’s like Parker in a Westlake pulp, dynamite on the page.

“You get word in Omaha or Fond du lac or Jersey City that they need you, and the next thing you know you’re busy studying somebody and becoming him. Or maybe creating somebody out of whole cloth. It isn’t pretty work, posing as a criminal. You swim through an ocean of filth before your job is done, and a lot of that filth gets swallowed. But the job has to be done. Somebody has to do it. I guess I’m the lucky one.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Two women from different ends of the spectrum collide on Vic. The first, a virginal Hungarian named Elena, the daughter of the captive but talented engraver. She’s been the pressure point that the mob pushes in order to control her gifted father, to keep him scared enough to churn out plates for the private mint. She learns of Vic’s arrival and shows up at his hotel begging him to rescue her father. What’s in it for him? Anything he wants… The second, a former stripper and the Philly boss’ number one girl, Carol. She wants Klaus (the boss) dead and she wants Vic to do it. Breathy whispers of riding into the sunset with the plates all to themselves when the organization is out of the way make an interesting proposition. Especially when she pays Vic a late night visit; a taste of what’s to come.

“I let her into the room. She wriggled off the trenchcoat, threw it on a chair, and sucked in a deep breath with the obvious intention of enhancing her figure. Cooperatively, I gave her sweater an admiring glance. She flushed again, she was trying hard as hell to be a femme fatale, but the part just didn’t ride naturally on her.”

4) Misogyny

Blood on the Mink had a healthy dose of misogyny, it was reminiscent of the golden era of noir crime fiction. The women in the plot are at the mercy of their male overlords, they’re props for pervs to hang their ya-ya’s on. The helpless virgin was a nice touch, a woman who is able to sneak away to see Vic alone in his hotel room, but she’s not canny enough to help her captive father escape. And then Carol, a different kind of prisoner who’s looking to change wardens. When your blood boils you know you’re experiencing the symptoms of great noir misogyny.

5) Redemption

This didn’t have the classic redemption theme that most noir from this era has. First, he wasn’t playing detective, so there was no intellectual redemption taking place. And second, we never really know who Vic really is or what his personal motivations might be. We’re given a lot of smoke about it being his duty, his job, but we don’t know why he chose it in the first place. He simply seems to get off on the lies. In this end of the pool, it’s a bit shallow.

Noir Crime Fiction Robert Silverberg at WorldCon 1985

Robert Silverberg at WorldCon1985 (via midamericon.org)

6) Eroticism

I’ve already told you about the begging virgin, but nothing transpires between her and Vic. He promises to help her without cashing in any of her carnal assets. Not so with the stripper. But I love old noir crime fiction, because the sex is never raunchy or overtly detailed. I think Silverberg uses the words “stark naked” and “very happy” but that’s as tittilating as it gets.

“She said she was going to show me she could make a man happy. She showed me. She showed me for a couple of hours. By the time we were finished, I was very, very happy. So, I think, was she.”

7) Loss of Innocence

Poor Elena is the heart-wrenching tool of manipulation that has enslaved her father to Klaus. She’s desperate for freedom, but she lacks the masculinity to succeed in obtaining it. Her innocence is lost in more ways than one by the end of the plot. As far as Vic is concerned, he lost his innocence a long time ago. How, when, or why, we’ll never know.

“For a long time he refuses. But one day Klaus has no more patience. He takes me in front of my father, and they begin taking my clothes off, and when I am naked above the waist my father begins to cry, and–” She lowered her voice and looked at the floor. “Since that day he works for them.”

8 ) Racism

There wasn’t any.

9) Smoke

The cigarette smoke in Blood on the Mink got thicker and darker as the plot raced on. Almost like the smoke-stack of a locamotive hurtling toward an unfinished bridge. It represented the anxiety being felt by both Vic and the reader, a sign of inner fuel reserves being burnt.

“I must have used up four hundred cigarettes that day, waiting for the minutes to tick past. By mid-afternoon my fingers were stained with nicotine and my throat felt like it had been left out in the Arizona sun for a few days. But there was nothing that I could do except smoke. And pace, and wait.”

10) Emasculation

This book has a steel backbone of masculinity running through it. As Vic interacts with any character, male or female, it’s akin to the posturing of male peacocks or silverback gorillas. Jutting chins, rolled sleeves, and puffed-out chests pepper the entire caper. Vic will not be emasculated, and he’s great at emasculating others.

I loved this read. Blood on the Mink is a grit strewn thrill ride into the criminal underworld, a near perfect noir crime fiction. The afterword from the author was particularly charming:

“…when I read [Blood on the Mink] again last month, half century after the fact, I offered my younger self of that distant era a round of applause. He was still wet behind the ears, then, or so it seems to me from the vantage point of the senior citizen he has become, but even back then, I think, he told a pretty good story. I hope modern readers will agree.” -Robert Silverberg, March 2011

If you want to buy your own copy click here

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Noir Crime Fiction | The Widow by Georges Simenon

Noir Crime Fiction The Widow Georges Simenon

The Widow by Georges Simenon

The Widow by Georges Simenon was published in 1942 and is an exquisite piece of french noir crime fiction. The entire work is laced with the troubling desires of emotionally and spiritually deranged characters. The prose is beautiful (even in translation), and the lovely descriptions create a picturesque backdrop for despicability; the dregs of sin. Simenon masterfully paints the turmoil of a recently paroled murderer who is searching for his place in a world that refuses to accept him, and contrasts it with the plight of an anxious widow whose family is plotting against her.

Tati Couderc is a somewhat portly widow who has inherited a lovely house and plot of land from her husband. Her trouble-making son Rene is away at war, and her aged and confused father-in-law helps her tend the animals. The sisters of her deceased husband desire the farmhouse for themselves, and have begun charting legal channels to achieve this end. Tati is not foolish, however, and she sexually sedates their father frequently; using sex as a means of ensuring his favor (as one would ensure the love of a dog by giving it treats).

Jean Passerat-Monnoyeur is the disowned son of a wealthy brewer. He killed a man, and but for the wit of his lawyer he would have been decapitated as a result. Released on a spat of lies and legal technicalities, he has recently finished a five year sentence in prison. In the course of his aimless wandering, he encounters Tati on a crowded city bus, and follows her home. She, assuming that he was a foreigner, invites him to work as a farmhand for reasonable pay, room, and board. Intrigued with the bossy, anxious, and energetic woman; and lacking anywhere else to go, he accepts.

The crux of the conflict in the book occurs when Jean, against Tati’s wishes, finds himself helplessly in love with her niece Felicie.

Here is the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The gorgeous countryside of a remote and undeveloped France is not a very seedy underworld, but the selfish, violent, and depraved individuals that live there create a perfect noir setting.

2) The Anti-Hero

Jean is a deeply sympathetic anti-hero. The Widow is essentially the tale of his struggle to come to grips with himself; the struggle to discover who he really is. The murder in his past haunts every sleeping moment, and Felicie every waking. Simenon takes us on a powerfully emotional journey with Jean, and his insight into the mind of a murderer is chilling.

3) The Femme Fatale

Felicie is a young and radiant red-head. She has a baby from a previous man to which we are never introduced, and Tati constantly refers to her as a slut and a laz-ab0ut. Initially, Felicie rejects Jean’s interest brutally, but as she sees the depth of her hold on him, she begins to cling to the periphery of his existence. As a femme fatale plot device, she creates the final encounter in the novel.

He thought of Felicie all day long and it was partly Tati’s fault, for he could feel that she too was thinking of her the whole time.

4) Misogyny

Oddly, there is very little misogyny in this noir crime fiction. Tati has such a strong and abrasive personality that she dominates Jean as if he were a servant.

5) Redemption

Jean believes the redemption for his past exists in acceptance. If he can find a home, a place where he is loved and needed, then he can find peace.

Noir Crime Fiction Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon (via elarcadearciniegas.blogspot.com)

6) Eroticism

The widow Couderc uses sex as a tool of control and domination. She uses it on her father-in-law, and shortly after hiring Jean she uses it on him. But it fails to have the same effect on Jean. Contrarily, Felicie’s mere presence is intoxicating to him, and his desire for her causes him to betray the trust given by Tati.

Jean’s first thought was that they could not remain there, standing among the potatoes, and he led her gently toward the shed, aimlessly still, and still without speaking. Then he kissed her once more and he saw that her eyes were closed, her neck of an unreal whiteness.

It was, truly, as though it had been foreseen from all eternity that they would meet on that evening, at that spot, and that they need say nothing to each other, that they would recognize each other and have only to fulfill their destiny.

7) Loss of Innocence

The recollection of Jean’s childhood is tragic, as he was a friendless and pitiful boy. His instructors were quite cruel and set him apart from the other students because of his wealthy background. This isolated him, and caused him to pretend to be ill for much of his life in order to avoid conflict. When he eventually murdered a man to whom he had lost a fortune at the gambling den, his loss of innocence was complete.

8 ) Racism

There are small racist remarks towards the Polish here and there.

9) Smoke

Cigarettes are a part of daily life. Jean often retreats into their hot embrace.

10) Emasculation

Tati is incredibly emasculating to Jean and the other men in her life. Although she is rather kind, ultimately she’s selfish, bossy, and defiant. Her continually condescending treatment of Jean leads him to the tragic climax at the novel’s conclusion. A climax that may have been avoided if she had not so challenged his manhood.

The Widow was a delightful noir crime fiction to read. I truly enjoyed it.

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Noir Crime Fiction | “The Comedy is Finished” by Donald E. Westlake

The Comedy is Finished by Donald E. Westlake is a delicious morsel of noir crime fiction. Like a voice from beyond the grave, this manuscript was unearthed from a long forgotten storage box and published as the final known work of the deceased master.

Noir Crime Fiction The Comedy is Finished Donald E Westlake

"The Comedy is Finished" by Donald E. Westlake

The plot follows the unfortunate plight of American comedian Koo Davis as he is kidnapped by a group of radical revolutionaries. In true thriller fashion, the story moves at a dangerous pace propelled by unsettling thematic undertones. The triumph of this novel is in the detail of the character development. Every individual in the story is treated with a freshness and respect that is rare in any story. Each of the five kidnappers is meticulously ornate: Peter, the leader, with his chewed-raw cheeks and fear of emasculation. Larry, the theorist, with his grasp of Truth and History, as well as his patient lecturing. Liz, the femme fatale, with her lack of physical boundaries and drug addled perceptions. Mark, the muscle, with his brutally violent and unpredictable temperament. And Joyce, the den-mother, with her affectionate naivete and hopeful outlook. The reader is given a uniquely intimate view into the anxiety-charged climate of the hostage.

How does it fair against the noir definition? Observe:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Hollywood and the surrounding areas of pomp in the 1970s; Gated communities, back-rooms at police HQ, vacant mansions, and an underground grotto with a peeping-tom window to the swimming pool. Mr. Westlake is fabulous at creating vibrant environments that provide contrast for the dark deeds committed in them.

2) The Anti-Hero

Koo Davis is a wonderfully sympathetic anti-hero. He’s funny, bright, and extremely perceptive. As a reader, I was pained to see not only the predictament he was thrust into, but also the bleak landscape of his personal history. Because of the bridges burning in his rear view mirror, he seriously doubts that any of his family or so-called friends will care that he’s kidnapped. In these moments of doubt, his comical facade drops and one can see that indeed “the comedy is finished.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Each of the kidnappers possessed a very fleshed-out character, but only one qualifies as a femme fatale: Liz. She is the woman shown on the cover, wearing nothing but sunglasses. Although Liz does not have any interest in Koo, she does flaunt her sexuality with abandon. She doesn’t hide her disdain towards men, and she spends the novel in an acid-induced fog of violence.

4) Misogyny

Koo is an old man who recognizes his own misogyny far too late. He’s lived the life of a womanizer; drunk on his own fame, a stranger to his own wife and children. Koo’s memories of USO tours are fraught with the sexual objectification and misrepresentation of women, the pinnacle of his misogyny being the money he would shill to ensure secret abortions. The Comedy is Finished has a strong thread of noir crime fiction misogyny.

5) Redemption

For FBI agent Michael Wiskiel, the Koo Davis kidnapping case will be his ticket back to Washington D.C., his chance to salvage his career. For Koo, he realizes the need for redemption far too late, and he mourns the loss of a lifetime of apologies. For Peter (the lead kidnapper), this operation is the beginning of the redemption of America, the beginning of wresting it from the hands of the unworthy. Without spoiling anything, I’ll also note that there is a very strong father/child redemption theme present in the text.

Noir Crime Fiction Donald E Westlake

Donald E. Westlake

6) Eroticism

Several erotic scenes exist within the novel, and they follow the exact outline for the noir genre. They approach sexuality from the unacceptable outskirts, dabbling in the bizarre and outré practices of the sexual deviant. Liz’s blatant nudity, the free love shared among the kidnappers, and Peter’s sexual demands all lend to the erotic underpinnings of the novel.

7) Loss of Innocence

The only scene shared between Liz and Koo was shocking. I won’t spoil it, but it was one of the strangest scenes I’ve ever read. It absolutely represented a loss of innocence.

8 ) Racism

There are no characters of other races in the novel. And no racially-charged content.

9) Smoke

Smoke is the ever present companion of the characters. Always on the edge of the scene, dangling from a pursed lip.

10) Emasculation

The largest evidence of emasculation occurs in the scene between Liz and Koo, but I’ve already stated that I won’t spoil it. Peter fears that his operation will fail, or that his leadership will be questioned; This leads him to the extremes of personality that he exhibits. His fear of emasculation is one of the most driving elements of his character. Likewise, Agent Michael Wiskiel has been emasculated in the past (he was demoted and sent to California in shame) and this past failure drives him to the great lengths and risks that he is willing to undertake to recover Koo as well as his lost manhood.

Donald E. Westlake is a undeniable master of the noir crime fiction genre, and we are lucky that he left us with such an immense catalogue to read.

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