Classics in September is ongoing at Crime Fiction Lover, and readers may be interested in my first CIS piece: The Top 5 Women of Noir. This is a companion to my earlier piece listing five of the top hardboiled writers. As before, I’m very interested to see if you would add anyone to the list (too many writers, too few spots!). So feel free to leave a comment here or there. And keep an eye on Classics in September at CFL.
Posts tagged Dorothy B. Hughes
Anonymous asked: what is "noir novels?"
I have addressed this point here and here. Nonetheless, it is a good time to reiterate my view of what noir is, given that I was just questioning the noir bona fides of Stieg Larsson.
Noir is, to some degree, a matter of “I know it when I see it.” If you read the previous posts, you’ll see that noir developed out of the hardboiled tradition. Authors like James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich wrote stories that were as bleak and hard as anything hardboiled (if not more so!), but did not center on the hardboiled detective.
There is no Philip Marlowe or Continental Op to set things right in Cain’s writing. The protagonists are undone by their own desires, just like everyone else. James M. Cain was an early pioneer of noir, and other notable noir authors include Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith and George V. Higgins. More recently, Elmore Leonard, Dennis Lehane and James Sallis have all written excellent noir.
In a nutshell, this is what noir fiction is. It is not film noir, which can be based on a work of literary noir (Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train), but may also be derived from hardboiled fiction (The Maltese Falcon).
As always, I invite readers to offer alternate views or clarifications to my own opinion.
thelamplightersserenade asked: Do you have recommendations for spy novels? I've read Tinker Tailor and plan to read the rest of the Karla trilogy, I have the IPCRESS Files on my list, and the Company. Do you have any cold war films/novels you can recommend?
John le Carré’s Cold War novels are good (his post-Cold War novels are less so). I would especially recommend The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (and the movie with Richard Burton). I have a number of espionage novels around, I just have yet to read them all. The definitive Cold War neo-noir is probably The Manchurian Candidate, though the novel by Richard Condon is not really noir. The Third Man also deals with international politics, as do a number of other Graham Greene novels.
Eric Ambler wrote some hardboiled spy thrillers. The Fallen Sparrow, by the always excellent Dorothy B. Hughes, has some foreign intrigue in the plot. Richard Hershatter and Andrew Garve wrote pulpy espionage novels, as did Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm doesn’t remotely resemble Dean Martin, by the way).
And let us not forget Ian Fleming’s James Bond. As I have argued previously, I think James Bond is a hardboiled hero. Especially in Casino Royale, which has near-noirish fatalism. In the other novels, the noir elements are perhaps less apparent. But he is a hardboiled, pulpy hero—a Tory Mike Hammer, if you will.
itswhatpeopledo asked: I absolutely love the Noir genre and hard-boiled detective fiction etc etc. So far, I'm trying to read all of Raymond Chandler's novels with Philip Marlowe because I absolutely looove it. Any suggested authors? You can give me a long list, because I plan on reading as many as I can. Movies/directors too if you can! I would also love to learn about the general time period (Pretty much the 1900s-1950s, more or less), so if you know some good ways to do that, it would also be much appreciated.
The hardboiled/noir trilogy is Hammett, Chandler and Cain. I would advise reading them to understand the foundations of the genre (if we can it a genre—and this is debated). But it’s important to know that hardboiled/noir splits into two streams: hardboiled and noir. I’ve addressed the difference before, but I think it’s important to keep in mind.
You seem more interested in hardboiled P.I. fiction than noir, so I’ll focus on that. But I think Cain (noir) is important reading for any fan of crime fiction, as are Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson. My personal favorite is Dorothy B. Hughes, who blends hardboiled dialogue with noir plots and writes thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.
There is so much hardboiled fiction. I’ve stacks and stacks of it in my living room (I now have seven stacks instead of five—and all of them are taller than they were two months ago). Hammet and Chandler are essential starting points. The hardboiled trinity is Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald (of whom more shortly). But from there it just branches out. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series (most of the novels are set in South Florida) is a favorite of mine. Walter Moseley’s Easy Rawlins novels are top-notch mysteries. What’s more, they are brilliant explorations of race and the American experience. Early Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker have some of the best tough-guy dialogue ever put on paper. Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer makes a lot of other hardboiled dicks look like sissies.
I can go on and on and on recommending hardboiled literature. Not all hardboiled heroes are private detectives. Michael Connelly’s Harry Busch is a cop, as are the characters in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series.
I think that would be a good start, and you can always peruse the Currently Reading tag. I’m always reading new books, so keep an eye out for my recommendations. If you want a detective from a specific place (Denver, Miami, etc.) or with a distinguishing feature (African American, gay, female, etc.), I’d be happy to give some specific recommendations.
There is infinite variety in hardboiled literature. I would advise wading in and just read as widely as possible.
Having previously read In a Lonely Place, and I had high expectations for Dorothy B. Hughes. In a Lonely Places is a brilliant novel, and is far better than the movie based upon it. This should not be interpreted as a low opinion of the Bogart-Grahame classic. It is a fine film—but Hughes’ novel is vastly more chilling and engrossing.
Ride the Pink Horse did not disappoint. Hughes writes taut, disturbing thrillers as well as anyone. She blends noir and hardboiled styles better than anyone. Her plots and protagonists are dark noir deviants. But she utilizes hardboiled dialogue expertly. The result is that her novels are damn near impossible to put down.
Bow tie noir.
It’s unusual (for me, at least) with a movie this old to have read read the book first and then hope the movie lives up to it. But such is the case this afternoon. Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place was a magnificent roman noir that also mixed hardboiled elements to create a compelling and disturbing psychological portrait of the protagonist serial killer. From what I understand, Bogie’s protagonist is innocent in the film version, so I’m interested to see how they make that work…
And did I mention I’m seeing this in a real live theatre? OK, not live and not theatre. But on the big screen in a cinema.
Here is a rather large stack of the pulp/noir crime fiction I’ve picked up in the past six months or so. I’ll strikethrough the books I’ve already read. From the top, then:
- R is for Ricochet, Sue Grafton
- The Goodwulf Manuscript, Robert Parker
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
A Bullet for Cinderella, John D. MacDonald
- The Dark Frontier, Eric Ambler
- The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon
The Bride Wore Black, Cornell Woolrich In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes
- One Fearful Yellow Eye, John D. MacDonald
Thunderball, Ian Fleming Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
- A Hell of a Woman, Jim Thompson
When the Women Come Out to Dance, Elmore Leonard
- Three By Cain, James M. Cain (consisting of
Serenade, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit and The Butterfly)
- The Long Fall, Walter Mosley
All Shot Up, Chester Himes Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane Miami Noir, edited by Les Standiford
- License Renewed, John Gardner
- Bad Business, Robert B. Parker
- The Underground Man, Ross Macdonald
- A Triple Shot of Spenser, Robert B. Parker (consisting of
Pastime, Double Deuce and Paper Doll)
- Nature Girl, Carl Hiaasen
- The Cold Six Thousand, James Ellroy
I’ll be doing a separate post soon about good places to look for cheap/used/out of print noir and pulp titles. These books here were accumulated from a couple different sources, and their cost ranged from free to about $7. The library is also free, and you should use it. But some of use have the collecting instinct…
Noir is notoriously tricky to define (though somewhat easier in diction than film, where is is sometimes more difficult to determine what is not a neo-noir). I include Ian Fleming’s James Bond as a pulp hero. A very Tory pulp hero, but a pulp hero all the same. Bond continuation novels are a mixed bag, and I include John Gardner’s License Renewed here because I haven’t read it yet. After reading it, I might decide it belonged to some other genre, along with Raymond Benson’s unfortunate continuation novels (which are airport novels at best and fanfiction at worst).
These do not represent the totality of my reading, as I also use the library frequently. You’ll want to check out the Currently Reading tag. I’ll probably be cheating and adding some of these books I’ve already read to that tag.