Byways in Noir Fiction

For Me, It All Started With Film Noir

My friends Alain Silver and Jim Ursini, whose many books on the subject are in my library, introduced me to the joys of film noir. In time, I decided to investigate the fiction from which these films were adapted. I was already familiar with the triumvirate of greats—Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain—but I decided to dig further.

Of the novelists who wrote two or more books that I read were:

  • David Goodis: Black Friday, Down There (Shoot the Piano Player), Of Tender Sin, Dark Passage, The Moon in the Gutter, The Burglar, Nightfall, Cassidy’s Girl, and Street of No Return
  • Jim Thompson: Numerous titles, the best being The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, After Dark My Sweet, and A Swell Looking Babe
  • Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish): I Married a Dead Man and The Bride Wore Black
  • Charles Willeford: Pick-Up, The High Priest of California, Understudy for Death, The Burnt Orange Heresy, and the four Hoke Moseley novels
  • Robert Edmond Alter: Carny Kill and Swamp Sister

Then there is the category which I refer to as Oddities and One-Shots, people who were either famous for a single work or, if they wrote more, I only read one of their books. They include, in no particular order: W. R. Burnett (High Sierra); Don Carpenter (Hard Rain Falling), Elliott Chaze (Black Wings Has My Angel); Horace McCoy (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They); Kenneth Fearing (The Big Clock); William Lindsay Gresham (Nightmare Alley); Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley); and Chester Himes (The Real Cool Killers).

Reading these books, one becomes painfully conscious that the streets of America are not paved with gold. Life is not necessarily a walk through the park—unless it is night and the forces of evil are lurking in the shadows.