Thursday, December 30, 2010

Richard Stark, The Rare Coin Score (1967)



After misfiring with the first Grofield novel, Richard Stark regroups with garden-variety Parker: In The Rare Coin Score, Parker steals exactly what the book’s title promises, and, of course, he runs into some trouble along the way. Grade: B

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: Sara Gran, Dope (2006)



While reading Sara Gran’s Dope, I got to thinking about the variety of baggage that we bring to our reading experiences and how this baggage affects our responses to what we read. Three factors stood out to me:

(1) Our expectations for a particular book, which are a function of (a) any encouragement that we have received to read a book; (b) any knowledge that we have of the book and/or its author; and (c) the book’s packaging.

(2) Our personal likes and dislikes.

(3) What we have (and haven’t) read previously.

I purchased a copy of Dope based on the recommendation of an acquaintance whose opinion I have no particular reason to trust or distrust (1a). His recommendation was enough to prompt me to buy the book, but not enough to give me any sense of urgency about reading it. I have a few friends whose recommendations would have heightened my expectations considerably, but in this case I had identified Dope only as a novel that was probably worth reading.

I work hard to know as little as possible about books before I read them. Ideally, when I start a novel I want to know nothing about it other than its author and title, and in this case, I was successful (1b). When my acquaintance recommended Dope by Sara Gran, I stopped him right there (“Don’t tell me anything else!”), and I managed not to learn another thing about the book between that moment and reading it a year or so later. I could not, however, avoid having my expectations heightened a bit by the book’s front cover (1c). Four newspapers were quoted: “Thrilling,” says the Los Angeles Times. “Astonishing,” says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Twisted,” says the Chicago Sun-Times. “Totally shocking,” says the Times-Picayune.

But here’s where personal taste and reading experiences come in. I dislike art that makes me feel cozy, and I like art that makes me feel uncomfortable
(2). I feel art’s power when it ruffles my psyche, and in choosing books to read, I try to have my psyche ruffled as much as I can, so I am probably a bit harder to thrill, astonish, or shock than the average reader (or the average book reviewer)—and this is doubly true as far as noir novels are concerned given that I have seen the genre’s techniques and tricks so many dozens of times (3). But then again, I read so much noir in part because I like the genre’s techniques and tricks.

On the whole, I suspect that my reaction to
Dope was most affected by (3). The newspaper praise gave me hope, but the novel turned out to be surprisingly bland by noir standards. Dope is set in 1950 in the sleazier parts of New York; its heroine, Josephine Flannigan, is an ex-junkie-whore; and its plot involves Josephine searching for a young woman who has disappeared into the New York underworld. The setting and the characters never rise above the generic—indeed, they seem intentionally generic, a sort of homage to noir gone by. I suspect that the newspaper praise was sparked by the twists and turns of the plot, but these left me flat. I do not mean it as a brag when I say that I saw it all coming as easily as I can imagine a jack-in-the-box popping. The critic who was “thrilled” may be better off for having seen fewer noir jacks-in-the-box pop than I have. In any case, neither of us can avoid how it colors our reactions as readers. Grade: C

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week



Big gun fights
from
little pistols grow.
Tiffany Thayer
Five Million in Cash
1932

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!



Here’s hoping that everyone got a nice stack
of reading copies!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: Richard Stark, The Damsel (1967)



The first novel starring Grofield, Parker's sometime accomplice, could have been a Parker novel, but only up to a point. The Damsel picks up with Grofield right where The Handle, the eighth Parker novel, left him, and the opening is similar to the second and third Parker novels: Grofield is minding his own business in a hotel room when the title character invades through a window. She is on the run, we soon learn, from people who are trying to prevent her from making it to Acapulco in time to warn a South American dictator that his life is in danger. Her motivation for doing this (for risking her life for doing this) is thin at best. Parker, the pragmatist, would have gotten far away from her as quickly as possible. Grofield, the romantic, throws his lot in with her. Bottom line: Stupid plot, please give me the next Parker novel.
Grade: D+

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

5 Quick Questions with Bill Crider



Bill Crider has probably forgotten more about the noirboiled world than most of us will ever know. In addition to his awesome expertise, he is also the author of numerous crime novels himself, both series and standalones. His most recent novel, Murder in the Air (2010), is part of his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.
1. What’s the first crime novel that you remember reading?
Well, that’s an easy one. I remember it well. The Tower Treasure, a Hardy Boys book by Franklin W. Dixon. The first adult mystery I remember reading is A Most Contagious Game by Samuel Grafton.
2. If you were stuck desert island, which crime novelist’s complete works would you choose to have with you?
That’s a tough one. I hope I’m not stuck on a desert island anytime soon. If I had to choose, though, I’d say Raymond Chandler. Today. Tomorrow I might have a different answer.
3. If your house were on fire, and you could grab one book on your way out the door, which of your books would you grab?
Even tougher. Probably something personally meaningful and expensive. Maybe my copy of The Killer Inside Me.
4. Which crime novel have you read the most times?
Tougher still, since I don’t keep records. It would be something by Hammett, Chandler, or Ross Macdonald, that much I know. Just a guess, but Macdonald’s The Chill might be the one.
5. What’s the best novel by Bill Crider?
They’re all so good (and different) it's hard to choose just one. I’m fond of all of them. The one that’s sold the most copies in various editions is Blood Marks, for whatever that’s worth.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week



Watch them
if they behave,
Kill them
if they cause trouble.
Nothing
in between.
Richard Stark
The Score
1964

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review: Dora Macy, Night Nurse (1930)



Dora Macy’s Night Nurse may serve as an example of how times have changed. In 1930, the New York Times called this novel “sordidly realistic” and opined that “such cheap and unpleasant stuff . . . should never have been put forth at all.” Fast forward 80 years, and the most memorably unpleasant detail comes when we are told that a small child has “expelled the coffee given rectally.” A coffee enema? Seriously? I just hope, for the sake of the child, that it was iced coffee. And decaf, too. Grade: C-

Saturday, December 18, 2010

5 Quick Questions with Allan Guthrie



The noir novels of Allan Guthrie include Two-Way Split (2004), Kiss Her Goodbye (2005), Hard Man (2007), Kill Clock (2007), Savage Night (2008), Slammer (2009), and Killing Mum (2009).

1. What’s the first crime novel that you remember reading?

A Pocket Full of Rye, Agatha Christie. My primary five teacher introduced me to Christie and I read one or two before Rye but can't recall what they were.

2. Who’s your favorite Gold Medal novelist?

Ah, easy, there’s no competition: David Goodis. Gold Medal’s a really inappropriate name for his publisher, though. No Goodis character ever came close to the gold, not unless they rolled onto it by accident while they were lying semi-conscious in the gutter.

3. Block or Westlake?

Now that’s a tough one. I don’t think I can choose. I love the Scudder series, love the Parker series, and when I weigh up my favourite standalones from them both, they come out exactly even. So, sorry, it's a draw.

4. Your list of your top 200 noir novels ends in 1997. Name one great noir novel published since then.

Just one? There are so many. OK, the one I read most recently would be Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn.

5. What’s the best novel by Allan Guthrie?

I don’t know that it’s the best, but my prison novel, Slammer, is the one I’m most proud of.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week



The nice thing about a hotel.
Nobody questions any noise
that lasts less than ten minutes.

Richard Stark
The Mourner
1963

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: Richard Stark, The Handle (1966)



The eighth Parker novel starts out slowly, gets interesting in the middle, then devolves into an action-adventure novel. No reason to read this one unless you're working your way through the entire series (which, of course, you should be doing). Grade: C+

Footnote: Shame on the University of Chicago Press for the shoddy state of this particular reprint. Their version of The Handle is a minefield of typos, some of which radically change the meanings of sentences. The worst of these is on page 123.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bibliography: Gil Brewer's Published Short Fiction



Last revised: 12 December 2012

This work lists all known publications of Gil Brewer stories in English. Stories whose names are in boldface are collected in Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories, ed. David Rachels (Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2012) and are also available as Kindle singles (see links here). Thanks to George Tuttle for his help. George's alphabetical list of Brewer's stories (which is here) gives the opening lines for most of them. All additions, corrections, and questions are appreciated!

1951

“With this Gun—.” Detective Tales 47.3 (March 1951): 46-55.

“It’s Always Too Late.” Detective Fiction 156.1 (April 1951): 27-35.

“Final Appearance.” Detective Tales 48.3 (October 1951): 54-62.
Reprinted in Black Mask Detective: A Magazine of Gripping, Smashing Detective Stories [UK] 9.2 (January 1952): 36-41, 54.
1955

“Moonshine.” Manhunt Detective Story Monthly 3.3 (March 1955): 42-50.
Reprinted in My Favorite Crime Story (Derby, CT: Charlton Publications, Inc., n.d.), 44-48.
Note: “Dig That Crazy Corpse,” which was originally published as by Bailey Morgan (Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 8 [March 1955]: 33-47), has been reprinted under Gil Brewer’s name (in A Devil for O’Shaugnessy/The Three-Way Split [Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2008], 153-165), but it is not a Gil Brewer story.

“My Lady Is a Tramp.” Published under the pseudonym Bailey Morgan. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 9 (May 1955): 1-15.
Reprinted in Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine 1.9 (1955): 13-25; Bad Girls, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1958), 80-94.
“Motive for Murder.” Man to Man: The Stag Magazine 6.2 (June 1955): 26-27, 44, 46-47.

“Gigolo.” Published under the pseudonym Bailey Morgan. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 10 (July 1955): 67-78.

“The Screamer.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 11 (September 1955): 1-44.

“Death Comes Last.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 6 (October 1955): 92-117.

“I Saw Her Die.” Manhunt Detective Story Monthly (October 1955): 37-43.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 8 (1956?).
“Red Twilight.” Published under the pseudonym Frank Sebastian. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 6 (October 1955): 87-91.

“Teen-Age Casanova.” Justice: Amazing Detective Mysteries 1.3 (October 1955): 55-68.
Reprinted in Young and Deadly, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1959), 44-58.
“Red Scarf.” Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine 1.3 (November 1955): 3-97.
Reprinted as a stand-alone novel in both hardcover and paperback.
“Don’t Do That.” Published under the pseudonym Bailey Morgan. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 7 (December 1955): 93-100.

1956

“Die, Darling, Die.” Justice: Amazing Detective Mysteries 2.1 (January 1956): 57-77.
Reprinted in The Hardboiled Lineup, ed. Harry Widmer (New York: Lion Books, 1956), 84-103.
“Sauce for the Goose.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 13 (January 1956): 94-107.
Reprinted in Bad Girls, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1958), 112-126.
“They’ll Find Us.” Accused Detective Story Magazine 1.1 (January 1956): 27-35.

“The Black Suitcase.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 8 (February 1956): 50-66.

“Midnight.” Published under the pseudonym Jack Holland. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 8 (February 1956): 67-78.

“Fog.” Manhunt Detective Story Monthly 4.2 (February 1956): 50-57.

“Shot.” Published under the pseudonym Roy Carroll. Manhunt Detective Story Monthly 4.2 (February 1956): 140-144.

“The Gesture.” The Saint Detective Magazine [U.S. version] 5.3 (March 1956): 104-109.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine [U.K. version] 2.7 (May 1956): 91-96; The Saint Detective Magazine [U.K. version] 4.5 (March 1958): 108-112; 101 Mystery Stories, ed. Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Avenel, 1986), 37-41; A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, ed. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (New York: New American Library, 2002), 169-173.
“Home.” Accused Detective Story Magazine 1.2 (March 1956): 122-128.
Reprinted in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, ed. Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian (New York: Oxford UP, 1995), 341-347.
“Home-Again Blues.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 14 (March 1956): 108-128.

“Mow the Green Grass.” Published under the pseudonym Jack Holland. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 14 (March 1956): 101-107.

“Alligator.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 9 (April 1956): 48-56.

“Come Across.” Manhunt 4.4 (April 1956): 52-61.

“Cut Bait.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 15 (May 1956): 75-83.

“Goodbye, Jeannie.” Accused Detective Story Magazine 1.3 (May 1956): 81-84.

“Short Go.” Published under the pseudonym Jack Holland. Hunted Detective Story Magazine 10 (June 1956): 111-120.

“Return to Yesterday.” Published under the pseudonym Eric Fitzgerald. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 16 (July 1956): 62-73.

“Matinee.” Manhunt 4.10 (October 1956): 47-56.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 9 (1956?).
“The Tormentors.” Manhunt 4.11 (November 1956): 19-26.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 10 (1957?).
“Somebody Knew Her.” Published under the pseudonym Barry Miles. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 18 (November 1956): 110-116.

“Whiskey.” Published under the pseudonym Bailey Morgan. Pursuit Detective Story Magazine 18 (November 1956): 45-62.

“The Axe Is Ready.” Trapped Detective Story Magazine 1.4 (December 1956): 39-50.

“Renegade.” Blazing Guns Western Story Magazine 2 (December 1956): 103-119.
Reprinted in The Horse Soliders, ed. Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1987), 62-78.
1957

“House of Captive Women.” Male 7.1 (January 1957): 20-23, 86-97.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel A Killer Is Loose (New York: Gold Medal, 1954).
“On a Sunday Afternoon.” Manhunt 5.1 (January 1957): 128-141.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 10 (1957?). Also reprinted in The Young Punks, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Pyramid Books, 1957), 98-114; abridged in Man’s Magazine 5.7 (July 1957): 14-15, 54-59; The Violent Ones, ed. Brant House (New York: Ace Books, 1958), 150-167; Man’s [Magazine] Annual 1968 (1968): 50-51, 97-101.
“‘Beeg Fool.’” Salvo: Finest Foxhole Fiction—The Blood, Lust, Terror of Combat 1.1 (January 1957): 14-21, 92-98.

“Kill Crazy.” Posse: Virile Stories of the Old West 1.2 (April 1957): 61-65.

“Love Me, Baby.” True Men Stories 1.4 (April 1957): 24-25, 52, 54, 56, 58.

“Prowler!” Manhunt 5.5 (May 1957): 1-3.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 11 (1957?). Also reprinted in Challenge for Men 5.6 (September 1959): 12-13, 74, 76; as “The Prowler” in Guy 5.5 (October 1967): 14-15, 66, 68.
“Stop Off.” Man’s Life 5.3 (May 1957): 30-31, 72-74.
Reprinted as “She Opened the Door to Murder” in Real Men 12.10 (February 1969): 34-35, 42, 44-46.
“The Price of Pride.” Triple Western 18.3 (Summer 1957): 81-87.

“I’ll Be in the Bedroom.” Trapped Detective Story Magazine 2.1 (June 1957): 70-78.

“Bothered.” Manhunt 5.7 (July 1957): 9-11.
Reprinted in American Pulp, ed. Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1997), 409-415.
“Smelling Like a Rose.” Mr. 1.6 (July 1957): 38-40, 48-50.

“Old Times.” Murder!: Thrilling Crime Fiction 1.4 (July 1957): 15-17.

“That Damned Piper.” Pursued: Exciting Crime Fiction 1.4 (July 1957): 37-42.

“High Heels and Kisses.” True Men Stories 1.6 (August 1957): 38-39, 58, 60.

“The Glass Eye.” Guilty Detective Story Magazine 2.2 (September 1957): 79-86.

1958

“Meet Me in the Dark.” Manhunt 6.2 (February 1958): 13-23.

“Death of a Prowler.” Trapped Detective Story Magazine 2.6 (April 1958): 48-56.

“Getaway Money.” Guilty Detective Story Magazine 3.3 (November 1958): 67-74.

1959

“Redheads Die Quickly.” Mystery Tales 1.3 (April 1959): 117-128.

“This Petty Pace.” Mystery Tales 1.4 (June 1959): 66-77.

“Harlot House.” Mystery Tales 1.5 (August 1959): 23-33.

1960

“My Murderer, My Lover.” Men: The Adventure and Entertainment Magazine 9.8 (August 1960): 19-21, 88-97.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel Angel (New York: Avon, 1960).
1961?

“Lady for Rent.” Playtime: The New Fun Magazine for Males! 1.1 (1961?): 38-42.

1964

“That French St. Woman.” Man’s World 10.1 (February 1964): 14-15, 88-97.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel 13 French Street (New York: Gold Medal, 1951).
“Backwoods Tease.” Men 13.2 (February 1964): 19-21, 92-101.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Brat (New York: Gold Medal, 1957).
1965

“Beyond the Vineyard.” Swank 12.1 (March 1965): 50-52, 54.

“Cop.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 17.2 (July 1965): 40-58.

1966

“Indiscretion.” Swank 13.2 (March 1966): 12-14, 76.
Reprinted in A Devil for O’Shaugnessy/The Three-Way Split (Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2008), 173-176.
“Killer’s Love Slave.” Men 15.9 (September 1966): 20-23, 86-97.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Hungry One (New York: Gold Medal, 1966).
“Memory of a Hanging Man.” Topper (September 1966): 32-34, 74-76.

“Ransom for a Hot-Blooded Hooker.” Complete Man Magazine 6.5 (December 1966): 18-19, 70-81.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel Wild to Possess (Derby, CT: Monarch Books, 1959).
1967

“Beach House Tramp.” Male Annual 5.5 (1967): 12-15, 113-129.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Tease (New York: Banner, 1967).
“Phone Call.” Adam Bedside Reader 1.30 (August 1967): 70-73.

“Midnight.” Sportsman (August 1967): 26-28, 72-73.

“Let Me Be First.” Swank 14.10 (December 1967): 13-15, 74.

1968

“Good-Bye Now.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 13.7 (July 1968): 86-93.
Reprinted in Get Me to the Wake on Time, ed. Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Dell, 1970), 11-19.
1969

“Sympathy.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 25.1 (June 1969): 125-128.

“‘You Got So Much—I Want a Piece!’” Escapade 14.9 (September 1969): 13-15.
Reprinted in Caper 14.3 (July 1970): 51-53.
“The Mountain Kid.” Zane Grey Western Magazine 1.1 (October 1969): 113-119.

“Swing with Me.” Caper 13.12 (October 1969): 36-37, 68-69, 71-72.

“Trick.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 14.11 (November 1969): 115-120.
Reprinted in Coffin Break, ed. Alfred Hitchcock (1974; New York: Dell, 1985), 31-38.
“Pawnee.” Zane Grey Western Magazine 1.3 (December 1969): 112-124.

1970

“Small Bite.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 15.2 (February 1970): 110-115.

1971

“I’ll Never Tell.” Swank 18.5 (June 1971): 12, 14, 44.

“Love . . . and Luck.” Cavalier 21.9 (July 1971): 66-67, 69-70.
Reprinted in Cavalier Yearbook (“1973 edition”), 66-68, 74; A Devil for O’Shaugnessy/The Three-Way Split (Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2008), 166-172.
1972

“Token.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 31.1 (June 1972): 121-125.

1973

“Peccadillo.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 32.6 (May 1973): 47-53.

1974

“I Apologize.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 34.3 (February 1974): 45-49.

“Investment.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 34.4 (March 1974): 58-65.

“Blue Moon.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 34.5 (April 1974): 67-73.

“Mother.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 35.2 (July 1974): 91-97.

1975

“Deadly Little Green Eyes.” Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine 36.2 (February 1975): 54-83.

“Cave in the Rain.” Ed McBaines [sic] 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine 1.4 (April 1975): 99-105.

“Brother Bill.” As by Jim Beard on table of contents. Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Mystery Magazine 1.4 (April 1975): 88-94.

“Love-Lark.” Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Mystery Magazine 1.4 (April 1975): 49-56.

“Spaghetti.” As by John Harding on table of contents. Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Mystery Magazine 1.4 (April 1975): 70-75.

“The Gentle Touch.” Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Mystery Magazine 1.5 (May 1975): 40-48.

“A Waking Dream.” Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine 1.5 (May 1975): 98-104.

“Live Bait.” Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Mystery Magazine 1.6 (June 1975): 105-110.

“Upriver.” Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine 1.6 (June 1975): 97-105.

1976

“The Getaway.” Mystery Monthly 1.1 (June 1976): 58-66.
Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, ed. Maxim Jakubowski (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1996), 138-145. This collection was reprinted as Pulp Fiction by Castle Books in 2002.
“The Thinking Child.” Mystery Monthly 1.4 (September 1976): 38-50.

“I Was a Teaser for the Cops.” Uncredited. Romantic Secrets 1.1 (December 1976): 44-47.

“Swamp Tale.” Mystery Monthly 1.7 (December 1976): 40-47.

1977

“The Taking of Cherry.” Stag 28.2 (February 1977): 58-59, 70, 72-73.
Reprinted in Man’s Epic 7 (1978): 24-26, 66.
“Hit.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 22.6 (June 1977): 28-32.

“That Night in Jinny’s Bed.” Men 26.6 (June 1977): 56-61.

“Sunset.” Gallery 5.8 (July 1977): 56-58, 122, 124, 126, 128-129.

1978

“Family.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 23.3 (March 1978): 54-61.

1979

“The Closed Room.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine 24.4 (April 1979): 88-96.

1983

“Fool’s Gold.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mortal Errors, ed. Cathleen Jordan (New York: Dial, 1983), 156-160.

2011

“Sweet Amy.” 1981. Needle: A Magazine of Noir 2.2 (Fall 2011): 64-72.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

5 Quick Questions with Kirk Curnutt



Noir novelist Kirk Curnutt is also an expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald. His works of literary criticism include A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald (editor, 2004) and The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald (2007). His novels are Breathing Out the Ghost (2007) and Dixie Noir (2009).
1. What’s the first crime novel that you remember reading?
The first crime book was Ed Sanders’ The Family, the first Charles Manson history, soon overshadowed by Helter Skelter but in many ways a much more interesting work because Sanders (of the Fugs, of course) was a counterculture icon. I read it at about ten years old, and it scared the bejeepers out of me. The style is still so freakily Beat it’s disturbing. But fiction-wise, I was a huge Erle Stanley Gardner fan. This was mainly because there was a paperback trade shop in downtown Midland, Michigan, where I grew up, and as my mother and her friends were slipping Fear of Flying into brown-paper sacks I could nab used copies of The Case of the Vagabond Virgin or The Case of the Cautious Coquette for twenty-five cents. These were novels that could usually be read in the same span it took to watch a Perry Mason episode. But the downside of bingeing on Gardner was that it left me addictively attached to alliteration in my own writing.
2. Hammett or Chandler?
Tough call, but I’m going with Hammett, in part because he could rock a prematurely gray coif, something I had to come to grips with before I hit forty. Chandler’s plots are a little too tangled for me. I usually lose the thread about two-thirds of the way through. My favorite Hammetts are Red Harvest and The Glass Key. Plus the story “The Second Story Angel” from Nightmare Town—a pretty witty piece of metafiction on the competitive noir market in the golden age. (It’s online at http://arthursclassicnovels.com/hammett/secstor10.html.)
3. What the noir-est thing that F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote?
Fitzgerald actually ceded to the noir voice in the late 1930s when he realized his brand of romanticism was a done deal. He didn’t write crime fiction, but he did hardboil his style for Esquire, something he had resisted for a long time because doing so signaled his acknowledgment that the Hemingway school of minimalism had won out. There is an interesting if virtually unknown story Fitz did called “On an Ocean Wave” that I think deserves more attention. It was published shortly after his death under the pseudonym “Paul Elgin.” It was probably at the printer when he keeled, to be honest. Then there is a piece called “Shaggy’s Morning” that is generally considered one of the worst things he ever did. It’s actually not that bad if you read it as a parody of noir. It’s told from the perspective of a dog—seriously. Just to give the flavor: “I woke up after a lousy dream and as soon as the old beezer came alive I went around the yard trying to pick up something interesting but the wind was too strong. There was an old biscuit in my dish and if there’s anything gloomier than one dead biscuit on a windy morning I don’t know about it.” That’s (sorta) funny!
4. What’s the noir-est thing about the South?
It might be easier to list all the things that aren’t noir-y. I’m not sure sweet tea is noir. Or the Marshall Tucker Band—they weren’t either. But I think “the burden” as we all call it is a good umbrella term for the underbelly. To me Southern guilt and complicity are best manifest in the politics, especially when it comes to racial issues. Most certifiably Southern cities struggle to resolve the opposing legacies of the Civil War and Civil Rights. Those two historical forces create a gyre that has a lot of noir potential—I think Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising is a great example of how that drama can be realized (though BWR isn’t pulpy noir but more straightforward crime fic). There’s also an element of exaggeration in the Southern character that expresses the kink of noir very nicely. You look at some of the more flamboyant personalities that continue to rise in the South and they make Popeye in Faulkner’s Sanctuary look dull. Frank Melton, who was mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, from 2005-09—and voted the worst mayor in America during his one staggeringly corrupt term—seemed to have stepped straight out of a noir novel. He died on election night when he realized he wouldn’t get reelected! Chester Himes could not have created that guy and made him any more realistic.
5. What famous noir novel does your novel Dixie Noir most resemble?
Wow—really tough question. I’d hate to reveal all the sources I ripped off. . . .I was trying to write a corrupt-city noir, a sort of Southern LA Confidential. I wouldn’t say Dixie resembles that book, though. I wanted a page-turner instead of a wide-screen panorama. Maybe some Red Harvest in there, along with some Sanctuary. You know, the more hallucinatory type of noir where the violence seems almost phantasmagoric.