Drugstore Book Rack Literature

Archetypal American Noir Novel by a Noir Writer

Everybody by now knows about film noir. Where that comes from is a genre of drug store paperbacks focusing on tough guys, bad girls, and thugs. There are great mystery writers of the first rank such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. But beyond them is a whole pantheon of second-rank writers who have contributed to American literature (and to subjects for American films). Here is a list of some of my favorites, listed in alphabetical order followed by the name of one of their representative works:

  • Robert Edmond Alter: Swamp Sister
  • Barry Gifford: Perdita Durango
  • David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player
  • Chester Himes: The Real Cool Killers
  • Dorothy B. Hughes: In a Lonely Place
  • Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty
  • Mickey Spillane: I, the Jury
  • Jim Thompson: Pop. 1280
  • Charles Willeford: Pick-Up
  • Cornell Woolrich: I Married a Dead Man

My Favorite Jim Thompson Novel

This list does not attempt to be definitive, as I am still making discoveries in this genre all the time. Fortunately, many of the novels are being regularly re-issued.

Interestingly, there are also several excellent European noir novelists, such as Britain’s James Hadley Chase, whose No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a classic. In France, there are Jean-Patrick Manchette (Fatale) and Boris Vian (I Spit on Your Grave).

 

Hard-Boiled

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’s Masterpiece The Big Sleep (1946)

I’ve written before about American film noir, which includes many of my favorite films, such as The Big Sleep, High Sierra (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), and The Big Heat (1953)—not to mention several hundred other likely prospects.

Today I would like to say a few words about the literary genre that spawned these films. Although it was not until 1945 that the French publishing house Gallimard introduced its Serie Noir editions that gave birth the the genre’s name, noir novels had been written for years. There was even an early noir film by D. W. Griffith entitled The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1913).

What is it about the United States that produced this genre of hard-boiled urban crime fiction? It probably has something to do with our fascination with hard-boiled dicks, cigarettes, hard-luck losers, cheap booze, hot floozies, and guns. Here are just a few mileposts in the genre, alphabetically ordered:

  • W. R. Burnett: High Sierra (1941)
  • James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
  • Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye (1953), probably my favorite of all the noir writers.
  • James Ellroy: L.A. Confidential (1990)
  • Kenneth Fearing: The Big Clock (1946)
  • David Goodis: The Moon in the Gutter (1953), which I’m reading now.
  • William Lindsay Gresham: Nightmare Alley (1946)
  • Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930)
  • Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train (1950)
  • Chester Himes: The Real Cool Killers (1959)
  • Dorothy B. Hughes: In a Lonely Place (1947)
  • Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me (1952)
  • Cornell Woolrich: Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945)

I think I’ll stop at thirteen writers—a most appropriate number for this list. Not coincidentally, all have been made into classic films, both in the U.S. and France. Without straining my mind too much, I could probably double the size of the list. What’s interesting is that this list includes women (Highsmith and Hughes) and one African-American (Himes).

While none of the above names fit in with Beckett, Joyce, Faulkner, and the other literary heavyweights of the last hundred years, I would not be surprised if their works could be found on their night-stands.

Italy’s “Other” Orgy Island

The Mediterranean Isle of Zannone

The original orgy island was Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius dwelt in the Villa Jovis and was entertained by nude underage “spintrians” in his pools and grottoes. You can read about the whole sad affair in Suetonius, or if you are pressed for time, try here.  (It is for a reason that Capri means “goat” in Italian.)

More recently, there was a nearby island, slightly to the north and west, called Zannone. The tiny islet contained a single villa owned by the Marquis Camillo Casati and inhabited with his sexy actress wife Anna Fallarino. The Marquis let his wife have public sex with visitors, handymen, boatmen—whoever—just so long as he was able to watch and take pictures. He eventually accumulated 1,500 photos of his wife enjoying the favors of a range of men.

The Marquis’s Actress Wife, Anna Fallarino

But all good hings must come to an end. It appears that Anna fell in love with one of her transient paramours, which gave the Marquis pangs of envy. On August 30, 1970, he got a pistol, shot Anna and her lover, Massimo Minorenti, and then turned the pistol on himself. There was brain matter and blood all over the seventeenth century paintings at the scene of the crime. You can read more about this scandalous affair on CNN or this website.

I decided to write this post today because my most popular article in the last five years was about news orgies and showed a picture of several kangaroos in compromising positions. My guess is that a lot of pizza-faced youngsters Google “orgy” and “orgies” for prurient reasons. So, let the games begin!

 

 

It’s a Crime!

LA’s Men in Blue

LA’s Men in Blue

Let’s face it: Los Angeles is known around the world for two things. One is Hollywood, though we’re by no means a major film production center any more. And the other is crime. Not, mind you, because we are a particularly dangerous place; but the books and movies have painted Southern California as a place where bad things can happen.

I guess it all started with Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and Dashiell Hammett, whose novels painted this sunbright place as a pit of darkness. That was quickly echoed in the films, especially with the film noir classics such as The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Blue Gardenia, and The Big Heat.

Even now, excellent crime novels are being written by the likes of James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh, and Michael Connelly. I am currently reading Connelly’s Trunk Music, a police procedural featuring his homicide detective hero Harry (short for Hieronymus) Bosch. A small-time Hollywood producer is found dead in the trunk of his Rolls Royce, and Bosch ranges from the Hollywood Hills to Park Center (“The Glass House,” LAPD headquarters) to the Las Vegas Strip to find the killer while fighting off his own enemies.

 

 

Down On His Luck

From a New Book on LA Crime Scene Photos from 1953

From a New Book on LA Crime Scene Photos from 1953

Crime writer James Ellroy has come out with a new book of crime scene photos from 1953. The book is called, simply, LAPD ’53. The victim is one Jésus Fernández Muñoz, who, according to Ellroy’s description, was “a good guy down on his luck. The coroner’s register one-sheet is perfunctory. It’s an accidental death. He was walking on or sleeping on a concrete beam below the Aliso Street bridge.” He suddenly dropped 50 feet to the hard surface of the L.A. River, which in that area is a concrete flood channel.

I always loved Ellroy’s L.A. detective novels, especially the so-called L.A. Quartet, consisting of:

  • The Black Dahlia (1987)
  • The Big Nowhere (1988)
  • L.A. Confidential (1990)
  • White Jazz (1992)

I’ve read a few others, but need to read more, as I think he is one of the best working today. And his picture of Southern California is right on the money. I understand he is working on a new series set in L.A.

 

 

 

Badasstan

ISIS Exists for a Reason

ISIS Exists for a Reason

Bad Asses of the World, Unite! You now have your own country, so to speak. Even if you’re not a devout Muslim, or not a Muslim at all, you now have a place to go where mayhem is sanctioned. That’s why so many disaffected youths—male and female—are making their way to Syria and ISIS, where they can be as bad as they want, just so long as it is in tune with what the self-professed Caliph, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, permits.

And that’s where many of the new recruits will go astray. In the end, organized international mayhem is not as much fun as the local criminal kind. Instead of the cops, you have the Caliph’s masked minions; and now you can be blown to bits by bombers or Kurdish Peshmerga or (unless they feel disinclined) Iraqi armed forces. It’ll take them a while to discover that, because, as we know, bad asses are not known for thinking things through. And you can’t be all that spontaneous in an organizational context.

Oh, things will be gravy for a while, as you get your own Yazidi or other heretic girl to play house with, but eventually the pall descends; and you will be interviewed by Western news media as to why you deserted the cause.

 

 

Bad Taxi!

Beware of Unregulated Taxis

Beware of Unregulated Taxis

In many countries, taxicabs are unregulated. There are no meters. What is worse, many of them are looking for victims to rob, rape, or kidnap. According to the PeruNews website:

In the taxi robbery, a driver takes you to where his accomplices are waiting and then stops, sometimes pretending to stall the engine or run out of fuel. Then, you get mugged or kidnapped. Nice.

Many of the cabs used in these crimes have just been stolen, so don’t get into a vehicle with e.g. a broken window. You can reduce the chances by taking a cab from a company that you call up.

On the street, one cab is as good as another. The fact that it’s yellow, has a phone number written on it, is parked by the cinema rather than being driving past when you flag it down, a driver with official-looking ID; none of these means a safe taxi.

Many of the worst instances take place from Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport. Of course you can get a better deal if you walk past the legitimate (and more costly) taxi stands in the airport’s international arrivals area, but you can also get driven to ATMs and requested under duress to drain your bank account with the maximum permissible withdrawals.

That’s one of the reasons it’s a good idea to have a cellphone in Peru. This way, you can get a list of legitimate taxi companies from your guidebook and call for pickup. So what if it costs a few soles more! Your security is worth something, no?

Another problem, even with legitimate taxis, are thieves that break windows and grab the passengers’ bags. Make sure your luggage is securely locked in the trunk, and keep any bags with you on the floor and between your legs. You might even want to get a strap that attaches them to your legs. I plan to do that, even though I am taking a Taxi Verde or a Mitsui Remisse from the airport.

In one sense, Peru is a dangerous place. In another—wherever you are in the world—you have to keep your eyes open and be ready.