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.
Okay. . . Ken Bruen. Great Irish novelist. From the little I've read of him way too dark for me. Crime on the streets with no shred of hope anywhere. And that's the point I'm trying to make--modern noir is so bleak, so dark, so hopeless for the main characters no possible good ending can every occur.
There's a lot of readers who love this kind of writing. I think there's an even larger audience waiting to see darkness and a shade of light illuminating that darkess somewhere. That is, to me, taking noir/hardboiled writing off in a different direction.
Thre are audiences for both styles of writing. A lot of us are waiting around for heroes. Believable heroes.
Christa Faust summed this up well at Bouchercon a couple of years ago. I'm paraphrasing, but what she basically said was that in hardboiled stories, the protagonist exits in a fucked up landscape, but if he's good, he might come through okay. In noir, he's fucked, too. Ken Bruen is a good example of this. Jack Taylor fights his way through whatever comes at him. In LONDON BOULEVARD he takes the idea of SUNSET BOULEVARD and gives the protagonist a light at the end of the tunnel, hardboiled instead of noir. Charlie Stella's books have a lot of this quality. (I just wish someone would come up with a better term than "hard boiled."
Chandler is not noir. In fact he spoke openly about the need for art to have a sense of redemption, which is antithetical to noir. Cain is noir. Thompson is noir.
To me, the best crime stories aren't noir, but they don;t have happy endings, either. Let's face, order may be restored, but things will never be the same. people are almost always dead, and lives are ruined in virtually all crime stories. Bittersweet is the best we can hope for. Drives me crazy when people read a serial killer book and leave happy because he got caught. There should be a lot more to it than that.
Well, to each his own, I say. Frankly I prefer the film definition of what noir is and apply that to literature. As to the idea that noir in our genre is where bad guys get their tickers stuck in very bad situations, and then come out losing in the end--maybe.
But I have two cop character who are basically good, and try to do their best . . .yet they don't necessarily wind up catching the bad guy and throwing him in the clinker. In fact, several of the bad guys walk away laughing at the two and their efforts. Hard boiled? Or noir? They fit both, I think.
Like most generalizations, calling all noir or hardboiled writing as nothing more than 'Chandler fan fiction' is a bit too simplistic for my taste.
For example, I believe noir period pieces are fertile ground for new, original stories. They can be free of some of the restrictions of the modern crime novel, like the required CSI factors, the standard SWAT-style shootouts or, God help me, the FBI characters that predictably insert themselves into the plot somehow. And, of course, the FBI agent/cop is usually beautiful, but also smart and tough (which has been so over-used now it's become cliche).
I believe a noir story, particularly if it's set in the past, can be very original especially if the writer uses some plot points that have been overlooked by authors writing during the period. Now forgotten political and social aspects can be employed to make the story interesting and relevant. Dennis Lehane did this in the excellent 'The Given Day'. Peter Quinn also did it in 'Hour of the Cat'.
Try Reed Farrel Coleman. Clean prose, a family man, although his family is now defunct. He gets in and out of very dark situations, most often with more action than Hammett and Chandler.
His latest is "Innocent Monster" a new arc in his Moe Prager series. He has the atmosphere of character, place, and situation. His writing is as smooth as any in English.
He is the co-author with Ken Bruen in "Tower" a tear-jerker of a noir novel.
BTW, my personal definition of noir is "Screwed." The protag is alwasy screwed. I don't think that either Hammett or Chandler qualifies as noir--at least not for most of their novels.