Tag Archives: Noir Crime Fiction

Noir Crime Fiction | Queenpin by Megan Abbott

For a long time I’ve wanted to read some quality female-written noir crime fiction. Because of the misogynistic nature of the noir genre, I’ve been curious as to how that would translate through a woman’s eyes. Queenpin by Megan Abbott is a delightful dance with all of the themes of classic noir, the only difference is the rhythm.

Crime Fiction Queenpin Megan Abbott

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

The protagonist is a nameless young woman who becomes the protege of a ruthless femme fatale named Gloria Denton. She learns the inside track of a crime world that has been perpetuated for a generation; more importantly she learns the rules of this world. As she climbs the grimy ladder of the streets, she grapples with desire, ambition, and loyalty. The crux of the plot rests upon a fateful decision that brings her into direct opposition with the woman who made her what she is.

Here is the noir definition rubric:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The seedy underworld of Queenpin is comprised of back-alley betting parlors, gambling dens, casinos, and sunny days at the horse-track. The protagonist makes her mark as a drop girl; she makes evening rounds with money and contraband to the various players and crime-lords on the take. Thus the story see-saws from the glitz of affluence to the banal depravity of dog fighting rings and strip clubs.

2) The Anti-Hero

Creating a nameless protagonist has an interesting effect on the trajectory of a story. She comes across as being a potential outcome the reader themselves may experience. And even though we never learn her name, we still feel a sense of intimate empathy with her, for her. Coupled with the flawed nature of her character (she has glaring weaknesses), and she makes for an absolutely radiant anti-hero. Because we cringe at her choices while simultaneously understanding why she makes them.

“You have to decide who you are, little girl, she told me once. Once you know that, everyone else will too.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Vic Riordan, the homme fatale, fills this role in Queenpin. He’s a loser. A washed out gambler who can’t help himself from spending it all on a single throw. Our anti-hero describes him frequently as a wolf, and compares herself to little red riding hood. She knew the second she laid eyes on him that he had her, that she would do anything to him and for him that he wanted. He is the cause of the rift between Gloria and her pupil, because he flies against everything Gloria stands for.

4) Misogyny

Gloria Denton is one of the most wonderfully portrayed femme fatales that I’ve ever read. She is completely devoid of any self deprecation. Traditionally, a femme fatale is completely male-defined: the fatale becomes what they desire because it grants her power over them. Gloria does no such thing. She embodies power, respect, and the promise of violence. She does not mince her words or flaunt her body, and she ALWAYS does her own wet-work. The reason I mention this in the misogyny section of this review is because she entirely rises above it, and she teaches her pupil how to do so. The very best advice for any femme fatale I’ve ever heard:

“If you can control yourself, you can control everyone else.”

5) Redemption

There is a strong redemption theme throughout, just like any good noir crime fiction. The anti-hero desires to be loyal to Gloria, and when she fails to do so she desires to repair the damage. The tragedy occurs when she decides that she can’t do so, and she completes the betrayal fully.

Noir Crime Fiction Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott

6) Eroticism

I was surprised by the amount of sexuality present in Queenpin. It’s ultimately lust that causes the downfall of the main character, for she cannot stop herself from indulging her appetite for Vic. The details are written tastefully, nothing overtly sexual but the descriptions of the bruises she suffers afterwards.

7) Loss of Innocence

Queenpin contains an intensely violent murder scene involving a letter opener. I won’t say who is involved, but someone loses a great measure of innocence.

8 ) Racism

None.

9) Smoke

The only thing that can calm her rattled nerves (either rattled by Vic, or rattled by Gloria) is a good smoke and a seven and seven.

10) Emasculation

Gloria and her pupil represent powerful women rising up and controlling a man’s world. Their code of conduct and loyalty is cut from years of oppressive experience under the gender-role boot. Although men are intrigued by them sexually, their advances are denied wholesale. The only exception is Vic Riordan, but not even he can escape emasculation. The primary difference between this crime fiction and others is that typically being emasculated is an underlying fear of the main character, in Queenpin this was not so.

I loved reading a noir crime fiction from a female author. The fact that the protagonist’s fall was spurred by a homme fatale was so intriguing. It’s the same successful formula of hundreds of books, just reversed roles.

My only issue with Queenpin was the prose/writing style. It seemed like Megan Abbott was attempting to be Raymond Chandler, but she was trying too hard. The pulpy prose felt forced, and when it feels forced it comes across as hokey and unoriginal.  Just an opinion.

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Noir Quote of the Week #12

Noir Quotes Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block (via tirbd.com)

“Burglary, I thought, and the more I thought the more I liked it.It seemed somehow akin to writing— you set your own hours, you avoided human contact, and, if you were successful, you managed to touch the lives of people you never even met.”

-Lawrence Block, Introduction to The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1999)

(thanks noirboiled.blogspot.com for the noir quote!)

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Noir Crime Fiction | The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Noir Crime Fiction The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

my copy from Amazon

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson has been on the receiving end of some serious press lately. For the most part this coincides with the release of the much-anticipated film noir adaptation starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, but this post will deal exclusively with the noir crime fiction. I’m one of those geeks that everyone despises because I refuse to see a film before I’ve read the book (as if doing so would burgle my imagination of something delicious). Thus I’m going to give the novel the full review treatment while avoiding all possible spoilers (especially the big ones).

Simple stated, the story revolves around the unsolved disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the niece of a powerful industrialist. Mikael Blomkvist is given unlimited access to all records surrounding the case as well as incentive to discover the truth.

As is my custom, I’ll be looking at this noir crime fiction in light of the ten aspects of my pre-constructed noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The majority of this thriller takes place in scenic Hedestad, a small island outside of Stockholm. Very few of the locations described within the text have the “seedy” quality which one would expect; as a result nearly every wicked scenario is even more dubious because the villainy is hidden beneath a veneer of normalcy.

2) The Anti-Hero

Our anti-hero is Mikael Blomkvist, a mid-aged financial journalist with a penchant for moral causes and the courage to voice them. He is an attractive, level-headed man who has many loyal friends and old enemies. He makes a gambit at the head of the biggest corporation in Sweden, Wennerstrom, and fails to prove suspected corruption. This leaves him dejected, hollow, and furious and simultaneously opens a door to the biggest/strangest opportunity of his life. He is an ideal anti-hero because he has nothing to lose and everything to prove, and his self-worth has been shaken to the core by his failings.

3) The Femme Fatale

Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed chopstick of a woman who is always a hairsbreadth from violence is the femme fatale. She is young, odd, socially defunct, and an absolute genius. Throughout the course of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, she dishes as well as receives a great deal of violence, both sexual and non-sexual and none of it is easy to digest. She represents every woman who has ever been the victim of extortion and sexual abuse, and she shatters the shackles and norms associated with this blight through cruel vengeance. She is one of the most powerful femme fatale characters that I’ve ever read. Instead of being male defined, she is completely outside of their framework; essentially a male’s worst nightmare. She is an angel of vengeance.

4) Misogyny

While a frightening amount of misogyny exists in the novel, Mikael Blomkvist is wonderfully free of this ill. If even half of the statistics that Stieg Larsson quotes are true, then every woman in Sweden needs to get the hell out of dodge ASAP.  They are seen as sexual objects that need plundering, and that a male’s power is only a means of funneling  women to his libido.

“Thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship”

5) Redemption

Blomkvist is driven by the insatiable urge to redeem himself from his failed attack on Wennerstrom. This urge is what ultimately chains him in the service of Henrik Vanger on Hedestad, working to solve a mystery 40 years in the making. Although Blomkvist is not the only individual who craves redemption, nearly every main character desires the same.

Noir Crime Fiction Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson (via planetadelibros.com)

6) Eroticism

A hefty amount of eroticism exists in this noir crime fiction. Sexual torture based on bondage and S&M practices is a permeating theme in the book, and is balanced by an obvious presence of seduction and casual (though respectful) sex. Additionally there are bisexual encounters, rape, incest, and molestation present as well. The reason for such strong sexual themes in this novel is clearly the critique of the current climate of sexual violence and abuse in Sweden. The book is a harrowing look at hidden behaviors beneath the surface of clean streets and modern homes. This approach as an author of a crime fiction reeks of James Cain; the more bizarre and unacceptable the behavior, the more intriguing the book.

“Ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police.”

7) The Loss of Innocence

Possibly the most permeating consequence in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the loss of innocence that accompanies sexual abuse. One scene in particular is the molten core of the entire novel, and it ignites an uncomfortable sizzle from cover to cover. Scarring invariably occurs as a result of this scene, both in the lives of the characters and in the mind of the reader. It won’t be comfortable, but you’ll be changed by it.

8 ) Racism

A surprising amount of Nazism is present in the novel as well as ‘Aryan’ themes. Antisemitism is peppered throughout.

9) Smoke

Blomkvist is hopelessly trying to quit smoking from the first chapter to the end. It represents a chink in his armor of self control, and dismisses his the illusions of his ability to cope.

10) Emasculation

Henrik Vanger seems to represent the greatest sufferer of emasculation within The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. His failure to solve the mystery of his niece’s murder for 40 years is the ultimate stroke of impotence in his otherwise successful life. This failure pervades all aspects of his existence, first derailing his business and eventually his health. He’s consumed by his inadequacy, and he takes on responsibility for her demise as if he himself dealt the final blow. He cannot surrender to the unknown and fears that he will die without knowing what happened. He believes that the knowledge will set him free and restore what manhood has been stolen from him.

A methodical thriller, an intellectual masterpiece, and a frightening social commentary, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a superb example of a modern noir crime fiction.

Here are some images promoting the film noir adaptation:

Film Noir The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Film Poster

Film Poster

Film Noir The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Daniel Craig Mikael Blomkvist

Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist on a financial magazine cover from the novel (Blomkvist works for Millenium) (via mouth-taped-shut.com)

Film Noir The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara Lisbeth Salander

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. A hardcore femme fatale (via starcasm.net)

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Noir Art | Robert McGinnis

Noir Art Breakfast at Tiffany's Film Poster Robert McGinnis

His First Film Noir Poster

Robert McGinnis was born in 1926 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s left an indelible mark upon the noir crime fiction and film noir industries with his illustration skills; clocking in over 1200 paperback cover illustrations and over 40 movie poster illustrations. One of his most famous is his Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie poster which was (oddly enough) his first film poster assignment. I was so excited to learn that he is still alive, and since 2004 he has been doing paperback covers for the noir crime fiction group “Hard Case Crime.” Robert McGinnis is truly a noir art living legend.

Noir Art Robert McGinnis

(a femme fatale thrashing) via comicsalliance.com

Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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Noir Art Robert McGinnis

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More noir art to come…

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Noir Crime Fiction | No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

After seeing the movie adaptation of No Country for Old Men I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading the novel. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The novel is fast paced, brutal, and surprisingly filled with sentiment. Initially I didn’t consider it to be in the noir crime fiction genre, but as I wound further into the piece, it became clear that this truly is a masterpiece of noir. As is custom, I’ll take you through each beat of the noir definition as a means of defending my stance.

Noir Crime Fiction No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

via mrisakson.com

Noir Definition Run Down:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The arid Texas/Mexico borderlands. The setting’s bleak wasteland simultaneously highlights the despair that anchors the novel in place and the stark contrast between life and death. This boundary is shady at best.

2) The Anti-Hero

Llewelyn Moss, a vietnam veteran and a ‘good-ole-boy’ who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A drug deal gone bad, a pile of bodies and a satchel full of dead presidents singing the tune of millions floating on top of the carnage. He intends to buy a new life for himself and his young wife Carla Jean, but he quickly learns he’s in over his head. Pursued by a ruthless hitman (Antoine Chigur) and a gang of deadly ombrès, this noir crime fiction is one hair-raising scene after another.

3) The Femme Fatale

Not so much a femme fatale in the traditional sense, Carla Jean Moss fills this role. Llewelyn’s love for her and desire to protect her from the onslaught he has unleashed puts him in the crosshairs of individuals he cannot possibly escape.

4) Misogyny

Misogyny isn’t a blatant theme as in other noir crime fiction pieces, but the helplessness of Carla Jean, and her childlike misunderstanding of the situation which she shares with her husband is rather condescending. Her moment of actualization; the pinnacle of her empowered feminine potential comes the second before a trigger is pulled in her face.

“I’m not a fan of authors who do not deal with issues of life and death. I don’t understand them. To me, that’s not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange.” -Cormac McCarthy

Noir Crime Fiction Cormac McCarthy

via themurkyfringe.com

5) Redemption

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is the most sympathetic character in No Country For Old Men. His longing for kinder and simpler days is symptomatic of the horrors he faces on a daily basis. He views the folks in his county as his responsibility, and his pride is crushed when he fails to protect Llewelyn and Carla Jean. The entire book follows his quest for redemption, not only redemption for his current failures, but redemption from his past humiliations. He perfectly personifies the human condition: forever fallen.

6) Loss of Innocence

As the killer Antoine Chigur corners his enemies, he frequently engages in philosophical discourse with them before depriving them of life. His calculated brutality and seeming lack of conscience is frightening. He kills without remorse and balks at mercy. His word is his God, and he always obeys.

7) Eroticism

None. I will say that there is something intimate shared between Chigur and his victims before he kills them, but this is in no way erotic.

8 ) Blaxploitation

Some light racism towards those of Hispanic descent.

9) Smoke

Often the only relief found by any of the characters is in the smoky embrace of tobacco. Cuts the stress, cuts the tension, blesses the unworthy.

If you haven’t read this novel yet, please do. McCarthy has put together a veritable masterwork of noir crime fiction in No Country For Old Men.

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Noir Crime Fiction | “Three To Kill” by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Noir Crime Fiction Three To Kill Jean-Patrick Manchette

Last week I finished my second taste of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s work, it was the noir crime fiction thriller Three To Kill. The story follows the business man Georges Gerfaut, an upper-middle class family man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Late one night as he is driving his Mercedes Benz (slightly buzzed) through Paris, he’s passed by two cars going at a rather rapid and dangerous pace. Several bends down the road he sees one of the cars half-wrapped around the trunk of a tree. He reluctantly pulls his conveyance to the roadside, and finds an old man in the first stages of shock wounded and stumbling from the vehicle. Georges begs the man not to bleed on his leather seats and quickly piles him the back and races to the hospital. By the time they arrive at the emergency room, the old man has passed out, and Mr. Gerfaut begs the triage workers to bring a gurney outside. As they urgently tend the victim of the accident, they hand a clipboard of forms to Georges, and explain that he will need to fill in all of the paperwork for the incapacitated man. Using the bustle of the scene as a distraction, Georges ditches the emergency room and heads home instead. Seconds after he pulled from the curb, two policemen begin asking around the triage station for the man who brought in the gunshot victim. In true noir crime fiction form, what appeared to be a simple car accident was actually a “hired hit” and the fatal wounds to which the old man succumbed were in reality firearm inflicted.

Three To Kill is shamelessly inspired by the most famous lines of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It’s what fallingbeam.org calls the “Flitcraft Parable.” Essentially a man named Flitcraft has a close brush with death (A falling beam nearly crushes him), and it shakes him so badly that he abandons his entire life. He leaves those he loves, his job, and every aspect of his old routine. The irony is that a year or two later, he has settled back into the exact same lifestyle. Only now he has a new wife, new job, and new kids. Thus:

He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling. –The Maltese Falcon

So it is with Georges Gerfaut. Shortly after his unintentional meddling in the contract killing, he is nearly killed by two hit men sent to tie off the loose end. He is so rattled that he forsakes his job, his wife, and his children and flees to another part of Europe. For nearly a year he is cut off from anyone who knew him in his former life. Eventually he comes back to Paris seeking the men who sought his death, and slowly he settles back into his old life. His shocked wife welcomes him back tearfully, and he even returns to his old employers. The final scene of the book is EXACTLY the same as the beginning of the first. He is out, late at night, driving his Mercedes Benz with a buzz on.

I found Three To Kill to be a very pleasing dedication to Dashiell Hammett’s work. Its worth was compounded ten-fold when the “Flitcraft Parable” became apparent in its plot. I happily add this noir crime fiction novel to my Jean-Patrick Manchette collection.  (My copy is from Amazon.com)

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Noir Crime Fiction | The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

Noir Crime Fiction The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

my copy from Amazon.com

The Man With The Getaway Face is the sequel to Richard Stark’s The Hunter, and is a great piece of noir crime fiction. Richard Stark A.K.A Donald Westlake has a certain measured coldness to his writing that bounces perfectly off his hard-boiled hero, Parker. I think it fitting to place this review between the noir comic renditions of The Hunter and The Outfit because that’s exactly where this novel fits in Mr. Westlake’s chronology. Essentially, the plot follows a fresh-faced Parker as he lines up a new job to get back on his feet. He has had drastic plastic surgery to throw The Outfit off his trail, and now he must find work in order to make ends meet. The only caveat is the job is rotten and he can see the double-cross coming from a mile away. We get to meet a couple of his old associates in crime, Handy and Skimm, and a broad-shouldered femme fatale named Alma. Although he didn’t pick the job, Parker assumes control of the operation because of all the holes he can see in it. With Handy as his only reliable cohort, and Skimm with his head between Alma’s breasts, Parker must rely on every ounce of his cunning to make it work. Noir crime fiction perfection; here’s how it measures up the the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The north eastern United States, particularly New Jersey, serve as the back drop for this novel. An abandoned barn used as a hideout, a greasy diner, and bars frequented by good ‘ole boys make their fair share of appearances throughout The Man With The Getaway Face. Think post-war 1940’s.

2) The Anti-Hero

Parker is calculating and inflexible. He is a man of routines, and his way of life makes no allowances for exceptions. This hard-boiled anti-hero follows his own rigid code of conduct to a fault, even when to abandoned his principles would be easier. More importantly, he sees all the angles and won’t take orders from anyone.

Noir Crime Fiction The Man With The Getaway Face Darwyn Cooke

The Darwyn Cooke Noir Comics Rendition via joeshusterawards.com

3) The Femme Fatale

The femme fatale is a thick set waitress who’s sleeping with Skimm, one of Parker’s associates. She serves as “the finger” for the job (the one who saw the opportunity) and from the onset of her appearance the reader can tell she has ulterior motives. Parker and Handy (his other associate), can see it clearly, but Skimm’s mind is clouded by perfume and Alma’s other assets. Makes for great femme fatale drama.

4) Misogyny

The book throws all of its misogyny at Alma, the dame who is rotting Skimm’s senses. The ending sentiment is that women are self-serving liars who always try to control the men around them through sex.

“Let Skimm take over Thursday. I want to show you the doublecross.” -Parker (pg. 77)

Noir Crime Fiction The Man With The Getaway Face Cover

via img.neoseeker.com

5) Redemption

The Man With The Getaway Face takes an unexpected turn late in the story when the surgeon who performed Parker’s plastic surgery is murdered. Parker must then work to exonerate himself or his new face goes public, bringing unwanted attention from the enemies of his past along with it. It’s in this segment of the book that we get to see Parker’s code of honor, and how he avoids killing at all costs; not because its wrong, but because it draws unnecessary attention. All of his actions are utterly selfish. He is the ultimate survivor.

6) Loss of Innocence

None that I can remember.

7) Eroticism

Only one instance: After Parker pulls a job, he always has a ravenously sexual appetite. Now that his wife has died, he has no one to express it with. So he uses some of his new found money to splurge on hookers (sorry about the word choice) in several different cities. He also confesses that the one thing he hates about prostitutes is that you always have to hit them first to get them interested.

He didn’t get his kicks from hurting whores, it was just the only way he knew to get them interested. (pg. 180)

Noir Crime Fiction The Man With The Getaway Face Cover

Old Pulp Cover via noirboiled.blogspot.com

8 ) Blaxploitation

This whole book is white-bread 1940’s America. The lack of racism is racism enough.

9) Smoke

Every scene is held together by the sticky tendrils of cigarette smoke. I seemed to picture Parker in this one like a smoking mean version of Cary Grant.

I love Donald Westlake’s writing style, and Parker is one of the best creations in the noir crime fiction genre to date. I bought my copy from Amazon.com.

by Chad de Lisle

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Noir Crime Fiction | Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories

Noir Crime Fiction Fiction Noir Thirteen Stories

Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories is a collection of noir crime fiction brought to the teeming public by Hen House Press in New York State. It’s currently available in ebook format with a paperback release anticipated this October. And as an avid supporter of the printed word, I will definitely be adding this to my bookshelf when it is released in glorious physical format (sorry digital ebook readers, I’ m not a fan).

Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories is a beautiful homage to crime fiction and the film noir genres. Its strength is in its accessibility; both noir neophytes and indoctrinated disciples will find satisfaction in the wide varieties of plot, theme, and character. Playful story-lines laden with pineapple cake, dark humor, and charming hit-men are counterpointed perfectly by tales of redemption, suicide, and bizarre erotic behaviors. Needless to say, each point of my noir definition was satisfied by the many brilliant authors who contributed their works to this collection. As a work of noir crime fiction, the book seemed to relentlessly gather momentum as each successive story delivered its punchline. By the final three stories I was fully rapt by their escalating intensity; It was as if I was spiraling into a dark void. VERY noir.

A short story is like a seed, and just when it begins to sprout and break soil it’s stepped upon by its own conclusion. So it is with Fiction Noir. Within its pages germinate the seeds of great novels, stories that have the potential to scrape through the high boughs of the literary canopy and soak up the light of critical applause, but only saplings remain.  Plainly stated, my only peeve was that I wished the stories were longer.

The greatest of the thirteen is called “When the Man Comes Around” by Bernard Schaffer, and is centered on a good Irish cop bent on redeeming his family. Jimmy O’Leary learns from his incarcerated brother that his nephew is due for an extreme neurological surgery (ice-pick lobotomy). As Jimmy investigates his brother’s ex-wife and her severe new husband, we learn that loyalty to his family is stronger than loyalty to his badge.  Such stories weave beautifully into the canon of noir crime fiction, and the genre is better for it.

The appearance of Fiction Noir: Thirteen Stories is a witness that the noir genre is alive and well.

Get the ebook now at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.

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Noir Crime Fiction | Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Noir Crime Fiction Fatale Jean-Patrick Manchette

Joni Harbeck taken by Neil Krug

Writing a review for Fatale is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve experienced in the history of Noirwhale.com. Not only is the novel an amazing piece of noir crime fiction, it is also the best portrayal of the femme fatale archetype that I have read to date. Needless to say, Jean-Patrick Manchette’s cold, economical prose left me breathless. From page 1 to 91 his concise syntax and plot rhythm created one of the most perfect examples of modern noir fiction ever created. Written in 1977, and translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith in 2011, this “sleeper” novel has received great acclaim in many international markets, and will force American readers to make room on their shelves next to Hammett, Chandler, and Cain. I know I need to reign in my verbiage, so let me just say that when I finished Fatale I turned back to page one and read it again.

For her stay in Bléville, the young woman had chosen to call herself Aimée Joubert, and that is what I shall call her from now on.

For the entirety of Fatale, we follow a wickedly calculating female con-artist as she travels the French countryside infiltrating the circles of the wealthy elite and extorting duffle-bags full of francs from their chubby fingers before moving on. Although the concept is quite intriguing and original, the character Aimée is truly the stand-out in terms of story. As she wends her war on the wallets of the corrupt men and women of Bléville, her icy layers slowly peel back and reveal one of the most fully-actualized female characters in any work I have read. She transforms from femme fatale to feminist fatale as she fights to forget a painful history and soothe her buried wounds. Jean-Patrick Manchette receives high marks in my eyes because he stripped this femme fatale centered noir crime fiction of idiotic misogynist pandering to male audiences. Instead of making Aimée into a “feminist” by making her more masculine in nature, or by making her characteristics more desirable to males, he crafts her as a realistically wounded survivor of spousal abuse struggling for self worth and meaning. She really is a beautifully dynamic character who embodies so much poignant humanity it’s staggering.

Noir Crime Fiction Jean-Patrick Manchette

Jean-Patrick Manchette, 1942-1995

The young woman, blonde now, threw off the large towel, which was hindering her movements. She rolled her hair into the twenty curlers. She pulled the edge of the lowered blind aside slightly. She got a vague impression of night rushing by and of dark masses that were copses or buildings. Here and there lights could be seen in the distance. Occasionally an illuminated railroad crossing shot past, close by the train. She let the blind fall back and went to sit at the little table. She reached out and picked up the briefcase. She put it on her lap and unzipped it completely. Carefully she counted the five-hundred-franc and hundred-franc notes that it contained. From time to time she dropped one, and the tips of her breasts would brush against the money on her knees as she leant down to retrieve the fallen bill. In all, the briefcase surrendered some twenty-five or thirty thousand francs; the young woman put the notes back. rezipped the case, and placed it on the floor next to the compartment wall.

Next she lifted the cover of the hot plate, revealing a choucroute. The young woman proceeded to stuff herself with pickled cabbage, sausage, and salt pork. She chewed with great chomps, fast and noisily. Juices dripped from the edge of her mouth. Sometimes a strand of sauerkraut would slip from her fork or from her mouth and fall to the floor or attach itself to her lower lip or her chin. The young woman’s teeth were visible as she chewed because her lips were drawn back. She drank champagne. She finished the first bottle in short order. As she was opening the second, she pricked the fleshy part of a thumb with the wire fastening, and a tiny pearl of scarlet blood appeared. She guffawed, for she was already drunk, and sucked on her thumb and swallowed the blood.

She went on eating and drinking and progressively lost control of herself. She leaned over, still chewing, and opened the briefcase and pulled out fistfuls of bank notes and rubbed them against her sweat-streaked belly and against her breasts and her armpits and between her legs and behind her knees. Tears rolled down her cheeks even as she shook with silent laughter and kept masticating. She bent over to sniff the lukewarm choucroute, and she rubbed the banknotes against her lips and teeth and raised her glass and dipped the tip of her nose in the champagne. And here in this luxury compartment of this luxury train her nostrils were assailed at once by the luxurious scent of the champagne and the foul odor of the filthy banknotes and the foul odor of the choucroute, which smelt like piss and sperm.

Nevertheless, when the young woman arrived in Bléville at eight o’clock that morning, she had retrieved all of her customary self-assurance.

I’m struggling to analyze this most meaningful scene, because I believe that something beautiful is lost when I try to put words to it. Your instinct is going to be wrong. You will cry misogyny. You will believe that this noir crime fiction scene was written purely to get men off, but I urge you to look deeper because that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the only sex scene in the entire book, and a man is no where near it. There is so much more to potentially dissect here, but I need to shut up.

We never learn her true name.

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Noir Quote of the Week #5

Noir Quotes Fatale Jean Patrick Manchette

“As surprises go, this beats all. And such a pleasant one too,” he exclaimed, and she unslung her 16-gauge shotgun, turned it on him, and before he had finished smiling emptied both barrels into his gut.

Moments later he was lying on his back against the upward slope and its rotting leaves. His torso was full of holes and his khaki jacket had ridden up beneath his chin from the impact and his check shirt was half out of his pants. Roucart’s bare head was bent forward and twisted to one side, his cheek was in the mud, his eyes and mouth were open, and his cap lay upturned on the ground. With saliva glistening in his mouth, the man narrowed one eye slightly and died. From far way there cam the sound of three gunshots. The young woman walked away.

-Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale

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