One problem with contemporary noir is that the freedom to curse openly and describe sex explicitly can make writers lazy. In The Last Quarry, for example, there is nothing even remotely sexy about it when Quarry pauses to describe the nipple measurements of the book's two female characters, and the actual sex scenes read like stale Penthouse Forum. This book is far from the worst that Hard Case Crime has published (see Stephen King for that), but noir writers should at least aspire to be Raymond Chandler or Jim Thompson or [insert name of great noir writer of your choice here], even if they can't quite pull it off. The saying, I believe, is that your reach must exceed your grasp, etc., etc. Grade: D+
In Gil Brewer's fifth novel, he moves beyond the dated titillation that dominates much of his earlier work. A noir Everyman, his pregnant wife on the verge of labor, finds his fate accidentally entangled with that of a psychopath. The less you know about the plot, the better--this is a creepy classic. Read it, and the word "pal" will never sound the same to you again. Grade: A
Straight Cut is narrated by Tracy, a freelance film editor with a fondness for Kierkegaard. Intellectualism is not uncommon in noir fiction, and when it is done well, it can enhance a narrative with an added vein of dark poetry. In the case of Straight Cut, however, the narrator's philosophizing serves only to make a tedious narrative even more tedious. Tracy, who is at least not UN-likeable, is invovled in a love triangle (and other things) with his self-absorbed ex-wife Lauren and his creepy sometimes-best friend Kevin. As the narrative progresses--and it progresses SLOWLY--it is difficult to fathom why Tracy would ever have wanted anything to do with either one of them. Most interesting part of the book: the extended descriptions of the techincal aspects of film cutting and editing. Grade: F+
Million-selling debut novel from noir giant Charles Williams. This story of alcoholism and unbridled sexuality, which was scandalous to many in 1951, seems mighty tame today. More so than most Gold Medal paperbacks of the 1950s, this one is a period piece. Grade: C
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.