A Crimespace member made an interesting comment recently. Simply re-phrased as, "Anyone writing Noir is basically writing Raymond Chandler fan fiction."
Now I see why he said this. Time after time we read books, and authors, who mimic the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett--but fall woefully short in creating something to surpass them. So this question is this; can Noir be written that has all the main ingredients of genuine Noir--but packaged together and sent marching down a different trail? Can fresh voices rejuvenate an old man?
Can you name authors who have hacked out new territories in this genre. I mean really, really new voices.
To me, Chandler wrote hardboiled, pulpy, but never noir. Marlowe was a hero, slaying dragons.
Cain wrote noir. His heros are crooks, bad guys. How do you define noir?
There's the rub, Jack: the definition of noir. Some look at it as bad guys in terrible situations that's going to do nothing but get worse. Others, like me, define noir as mood-settings. Grim reality, dark places, but not necessarily without a ray of hope shining thru sometimes.
If Chandler didn't write noir then what, exactly, did he write?
Hardboiled pulp mysteries?
I would say that you can find inspiration in art or you can find inspiration in life - both are valid but you should have some idea which one you're using.
So, it's a matter of where the "fresh voices" come from. If your characters talk the way people you know (or have heard) actually talk and act in ways that people you know (or know of) actually act, then that could be enough to make them fresh. But as I.J. points out, that may not please publishers or reviewers who do seem to prefer writing that finds its inspiration in art.
Hardboiled or noir--to me, they're synonymous. They both whip up a dark mood, deep shadows, and grim reality. Chandler was renowned for his ability to write the vernacular of his time. To paint images and people with brushstrokes that gave them brillance and life. And god knows most of Marlowe's valiant efforts went for nothing. Victims, crooks, and the hero still suffered.
I guess the real question for me is this; can you write dark noir and offer a little hope? A little humanity?
Sure, if that's your goal. It'll be hard, but anything worth doing is hard ;). Many people who write noir or hardboiled are trying to reflect the world they see and mostly there is very little hope for people in those situations. So, what you're talking about is making the exceptional or unusual stories ones that hit a nerve with a lot of people.
Maybe hard-boiled and noir goes in and out of style depending on the prevailing zietgiest.
If you can make the hope seem real it would probably work really well but for the most part the readers will need to be convinced and most successful writers just reinforce what people already believe - in the case of noir that the world is bleak.
If you want happier endings and hope for people you could always look into romance novels, my understanding is they usually end full of hope for the protagonists.
Ooooh . . . . barbed wit, John! (grinning wolfishly).
But to be honest, I think there's a twist on your concept that most people who read noir/hardboiled know the world is bleak. It is. But they're looking for someone to give them a little hope it won't always be that way.
That's what I mean by taking noir down a different road. Bleak, yes. Hopeless? Maybe not.
Well, sure, one of the things people say they like most about the mystery genre is that order is restored and justice is served. But then that's usually what's used as the difference between "noir" and mystery fiction. If you're talking about hardboiled mystery fiction, say Michael Connelly, then it's full of hope, he always catches the bad guy.
Just for conversation sake, what wouuld be one of these too-bleak noirs you're talking about?
John, two names come to mind of current writers I know. But I won't mention their names. I happen to be friends with both of'em. And I like what they write, mind you.
Okay, so what's this discussion about then ;).
Well, Shakespeare always ended his tragedies on a note of hope, so that romance bit won't wash, John. As you say, mysteries and police procedurals generally end on a positive note, because the criminal has been apprehended and won't do any further harm. Normalcy is reestablished. Perhaps that also translates into hope for society.
But within those loose confines, both mysteries and police procedurals may of course be quite dark, either for society in general of for the protagonist personally. That strikes me as a good balance. The Jack Taylor novels are an excellent example of very dark novels that still hold out a little hope, and are furthermore entirely fresh.