Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lawrence Block at Noircon; Vicki Hendricks on noir; a question for readers

Ace chronicler (hmm, note to self: Write story about bruising, colorfully ethnic detective called Ace Kronicler) Cullen Gallagher posts video of Lawrence Block's acceptance speech upon receiving the David L. Goodis Award at Noircon 2012.

And visit Vicki Hendricks' blog post Noircon 2012 — the best!, where she says, among other things, that
"The definition of noir has broadened in the last several years with writers of any dark villain or alcoholic detective laying claim to the sophisticated French film term, but real noir devotees, as well as expert Otto Penzler, anchor the meaning with classic writers of the 40s and 50s, such as James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith. For a novel to fall into the noir category, the narrator or point of view character has to be the criminal. Most often these people are undereducated, born into lower economic groups, and demonstrate warped psychology that winds them deeper into the dirt, from start to finish. No happy endings, no series possibilities."
That last point — that noir and series are irreconcilable — came up during a panel discussion at Bouchercon this year. I suggested Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor as a PI who comes close to being a noir character. What do you think? Can a crime series, PI or otherwise, be noir?
***
My noir songs program at Noircon happened at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art. Here's why the exhibit/performance space bears that name:

(Photo by Lou Boxer)
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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30 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

No.

I've got very strong views on this. Series seldom work in general and they function quite poorly in noir. Jim Thompson was wise to kill all his characters at the end of his books and I wish that could be more generally emulated. But publishers hate that. They demand returning characters and series because thats how you build market share. Its not something that authors necessarily want and I dont think its something that serves readers either. You lose all sense of integrity and logic when your character is in his 24th murder investigation and his life is on the line...He would have had a nervous breakdown 10 books ago in the real world.

Series are fine for cat mysteries, Star Trek books and Patrick O'Brian but not for noir.

It would be great if more publishers went the David Peace route with his Red Riding Quartet - 4 books, 4 different leads and (spoiler alert) they pretty much all die at the end. Perfect.

At the most 3 books.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And here's my original blogpost on this, complete with comments, most of which said that I was full of shit...

http://adrianmckinty.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-are-most-crime-novels-bad.html

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like some of David Goodis' endings, where the not only does the protagonist not dies, but neither do his lover or his surrogate family. Maybe the ultimate noir ending is not death (that's too easy), but a kindof limbo, as in Goodis or The Getaway.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, have you read Vicki Hendricks? If not, try Cruel Poetry.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I will try Cruel Poetry. I'll pick it up on Saturday.

The Getaway is too weird to emulate if you ask me...

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I agree on The Getaway's weirdness. But its ending is temperamentally related to those of Goodis' Cassidy's Girl and "Black Pudding," I think. I hope you like Cruel Poetry. Vicki Hendricks is one of the best.

Wow, kharma! Am listen to Tom Waits, and "Cold Cold Ground" just came on.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I can think of only one great noir series, but it is the exception rather then the rule, The Sailor & Lula books by Barry Gifford.

The seven novellas are a series but the reason that they work as noir and hardboild constructs is because they are structured in a way that they are like seven parts in one long novel. In fact, the collected version is the best way to read them.

The other way that a noir "series" can work is if the books take place in more of a linked, shared world setting. Where all the stories take place in the same world but are not a traditional series. Duane Swierczynski does this and a number of Al Guthrie's books do this too.

My two cents.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your two cents are worth a nickel.

I didn't know the Sailor and Lula books were a series. I saw the movie based on Wild at Heart years ago then glanced at the end of the book, to be surprised by the weird ending that David Lynch tacked on. But I shall look for the ocmplete books.

Here’s part of what I wrote about Allan Guthrie here:

When we left our friends at the end of Allan Guthrie's Savage Night, the prospects for some were uncertain. Guthrie's new novella, Killing Mum, finds a career for one of that book's peripheral characters and looks more closely at the career of another, one work assignment in particular. … Guthrie has moved into darker territory with his latest novel, Slammer, but I'd like to think of Hard Man, Savage Night, and Killing Mum as a fictional universe, a ****ed-up, affecting, funny, murderous family saga that does a bit of genre-jumping in the bargain.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Okay, I'll play devil's advocate here. What about Jean Claude Izzo's Fabio Montale series? I think a three book series can still be noir. You take something away in the first novel, but there's always room to take away more. I'd even say that the Carlo Lucarelli INspector de Luca trilogy is noir.

Go ahead, fire away.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Fabio Montale series has a rather noir ending, I'd say.

And the De Luca novels may be noir the way Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor novels are -- things just keep getting worse. The trick, if there writers are interesting in maintaining their noir credentials, is to know when to stop making thing worse, and just end them before they become a soap opera.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

In the De Luca series, it's really history that keeps making things worse, at least for De Luca. Which is why I think they're so interesting.

November 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. And Carlo Lucarelli was sensitive enough to the noir possibilities in his chosen period of history to make novels out of them. To this day I don't think he's ever finished his thesis.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But, more to the point, there would come a time when the downward spiral would stop being believable. I mean, Kafka never wrote a series, either.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Right, I'm not arguing for the lengthy series. Although I guess I am not sure it's entirely impossible... If noir is about life, rather than a moment in life, it does seem like there might be a way to do it.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I do know that none of my favorite series is noir, not Bill James' Harpur & Iles, not Richard Stark's Parker, not Andrea Camilleri's, certainly, or Joe Gores' DKA novels and stories.

The De Luca novels come the closest to noir of anything I've read that's anything like what I think of as a series.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't really read enough noir to know if it really chimes in with my own sensibilities, I was arguing more from the perspective of technique. I think when you have a protagonist that you know is going to survive the conflict of the story it can hardly be noir, but I am not sure how long you can draw it out before it becomes unbelievable. I think if you were ingenious, you could probably draw it out almost indefinitely. But this is theoretical only.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That depends on what one means by "survive." I've found myself thinking at times that death is not a prerequisite of noir, that death can be too easy an out.

It may be useful to think of hell in the old-fashioned sense. It's both damnation (noir) and ever-repeating (a series). Capture that feeling, and you have a noir series.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

"For a novel to fall into the noir category, the narrator or point of view character has to be the criminal." --Vikki Hendricks

No, an innocent man framed often enhances the noir aspect, as in Alexander Woolcott's PHANTOM LADY.

And the things-getting-worse must at times be aleviated by the false hope before a greater darkness sets in. Otherwise, you'll lose this reader.

The end of noir doesn't have to be death, but it has to be a blind alley with no way out. Like the realization that Big Brother operates and maintains the Revolutionary Underground.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The end of noir doesn't have to be death, but it has to be a blind alley with no way out."

That's where I think those excellent De Luca novels by Carlo Lucarelli might qualify as noir. Also, the POV character or narrator in noir can be a criminal without being "the" criminal -- and without being exactly innocent, either. Such is the case in some of the David Goodis I've read.

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Odd that Highsmith is used as an example of classic noir just a breath before "no series possible." What about Ripley?

November 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That sound you hear is a hundred hands slapping a hundred foreheads, followed by the curses of those of us who forgot we were wearing heavy rings on our left hands.

I'm nearing the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley now and I have yet to read any of the other books, so I can't answer yet and probably won't be able to until I've read the last of the books. Did Highsmith bring Ripley's story to a conclusion, or did she just stop writing about him?

November 16, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Kelly

I think 3 Ripley books would have been enough. Sometimes authors should give the public what they need not just what they want.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What did she write, five Ripleys? Where to you think Highsmith should have stopped? I feel like I should read the final book and what you think should have been the final book once I'm done with The Talented Mr. Ripley.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think she should have stopped after the first one, but the series was exhausted by book 3.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can guess from reading the first book that Highsmith may have thought that a mysterious, retiring figure could slip, wraithlike, though the world forever. Perhaps this was holdover from her early days writing comic books.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Come to think of it, I don't see any reason that some noir novels could not have sequels. THE ICE HARVEST comes to mind.

McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY is certainly noir, but I could see a sequel featuring the shooter.

In my opinion, the movie MEMENTO is noir, but the protagonist is still alive at the end, he still has a gun, and he still has the problem that tomorrow, he will not remember ever shooting anyone. He'll still have vengence on his mind.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Ice Harvest's are not sequels in the conventional sense, They're "prequels" and sequels, but really parts of one sprawling multigenerational saga. So maybe one should rather say that noir novels don't easily have conventional sequels, in the sense of further adventures by the protagonist.

November 17, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Here's another wrinkle for the noir/series debate. There are some successful noir series in comics. Two that come to mind are Scalped and MPD Detective.

I think the conclusions are:

-it is possible to have a noir be a series but that the series is usually non-traditional (shared world or comics)
-that most crime fiction series at some point shouldn't be
-writers of series should do other things too (ie: stand alones)
-Most or all series have a stale date

November 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. One could easily think of Scalped as a succession of standalones about Dash and Lincoln Red Crow and short stories and novellas about other characters. So, after we've decided what noir is, we can ask what a series is.

November 18, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

The Boy Who Followed Ripley is definitely the weakest of the series, but it and Ripley's Game are more like standalone books than parts of a series --especially Game, which has inspired standalone films (see The American Friend, with Dennis Hopper weirdly but intriguingly miscast as Tom Ripley). I've always wondered if Highsmith came up with the plot for it independent of Ripley, then wondered what it would be like if he were involved.

Ripley Under Water revisits events from Talented and Game, and I think it's a pulse-pounder. I was still rooting for him, that's for sure.

November 19, 2012  

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