Lee Horsley, Reader in Literature and Culture at Lancaster University, is among the leading experts in noir fiction. Her books include The Noir Thriller (2001; expanded paperback edition, 2009), Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction (2005), and The Blackwell Companion to Crime Fiction (co-editor, 2010).
1. What was the first noir thriller?
Jacobean revenge tragedies have a good claim to be the first noir thrillers. But, limiting myself to the 20th century, the most obvious answer is probably the best: Hammett's first novel, Red Harvest (1929), is both noir and hard-boiled, and is one of the key turning points in American crime writing.
2. What is the first noir thriller that you remember reading?
Faulkner's Sanctuary: when I was about fourteen, I read it at a single sitting, shocked, fascinated and utterly gripped by it. And then I hid it from my parents.
3. What is your favorite noir thriller?
Here are a few of the novels that come to mind. Some of them elude neat generic categorisation: that's one of the reasons they're so good. Woodrell's Death of Sweet Mister, Hjortsberg's Falling Angel, Hughes' Ride the Pink Horse, Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Charlotte Carter's Walking Bones, Charles Williams’ Hell Hath No Fury. But that list leaves out way too many all-time favourites by writers like McCoy, Goodis, Willeford, Thompson, Brewer, Whittington, Highsmith. . . . Sorry, just too difficult a task to pick one!
4. If it has a happy ending, can it be noir?
Not if it has a conventionally resolved, unequivocally happy ending. But it can still be noir even if it ends with a glimmer of light, some temporary respite, a bitter-sweet, ironised victory, or a transgressor's fleeting hope for the future . . . the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, where Tom instructs the taxi driver to take him to "il meglio albergo"; or the final paragraphs of Megan Abbott's Queenpin, in which her protagonist reflects on the promotion she is being offered - "Say good-bye to all that? Who did I think I was fooling? . . . 'I'm your girl,' I said."
5. Excluding your own work, what is the most important work of literary criticism concerning noir?
I really admire some of the recent books about hard-boiled fiction, which of course also have important things to say about noir: Sean McCann's Gumshoe America; Erin Smith's Hard-Boiled; Christopher Breu's Hard-Boiled Masculinities. And, a decade or two earlier, the book that did more than any other to introduce me to pulp fiction: Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir.