It’s so hip to be noir. To read it or write it. It’s the most respectable of genres, the one most thoroughly assimilated into the mainstream of the Am...moreIt’s so hip to be noir. To read it or write it. It’s the most respectable of genres, the one most thoroughly assimilated into the mainstream of the American Literary Canon. Chandler, Hammett, Elroy, the list goes on and on of the pulp hacks who escaped the ghettoification of their humble , depraved and dirty roots to go toe to toe with their more genteel Literary brothers and sisters to stand firm and bloodied as that rarest of writing breeds: those who will be read by posterity. I mean is there any other serious contender for greatest living American Novelist than James Elroy? Anyone?
So the smart kiddies are reading noir now. Their mams and paps at the NY Times and New Yorker told them it was good for them, so they lap it up like Wheaties, yum yum so good. And if the neophytes can’t tell the difference in quality between an artistic troglodyte and reactionary like say Mickey Spillane and the literary sophistication, beadth of cultural knowledge and depth of humanity of a James Sallis, well, fuck it. It’s all about moving units anyhow. Right?
But let’s just suppose you are interested in good writing. And you like your noir with a little bit of heart, a little bit of light flashing through the artfully shot (in black and white)window blinds, are even, dare I mention it, someone who can dig a little bit of romance amidst all the gun play, exploding heads, severed limbs and tough guys metaphorically comparing cock size chapter after chapter. Have I got the guy for you.
Corbett’s the name. David Corbett, from foggy Northern Cal, granddaddy Hamett’s old stomping grounds. And just like Hamett, Corbett used to be a private detective! What is more frigging noir than that? Anyhow. I’ve read three of his novels. And boy can the guy write. He has grown increasingly more ambitious with each novel, dealing with socioeconomic and geo-political issues with a steady hand and an insightful mind that in the area of the US policy towards central and south America comes off with the force and vision of some old testament prophet.
But l’m here to talk about his first novel The Devil’s Redhead. And while it lacks the scope of his later novels, it is damn fine, one of the best first novels I’ve read in a long while. The basic plot follows an ex dope drug dealer, Dan Abatangelo as he leaves prison with the near obsessive thought of finding his former lady love, Shel Beaudry who might’ve been the one to betray him to the cops. Shel has hooked up with some world class baddies that make Abatangelo look like the recreational toker and hippie gentleman he used to be. But they don’t realize that Dan the Man has been hardened, hardened by prison I say, and he is going to rescue and woo his woman back or die trying. Yep. So Dan crosses paths with the gang of misbegotten muthas who hold the fair Shel hostage and much mayhem ensues. Blood! Guts! Hard Drug usage! Escapes galore! Bombs blowing things up! Wonderful action set pieces. Heroes who act like villains, villains forced to become heroes! And so much more…
I won’t say anybody can write action scenes or clever gun battles or plot worth a damn or just entertain and keep the reader reading frome page to page. Some thriller writers seem to lack even those rudimentary skills. But what sets Corbett apart from most and what makes him worth reading is the way he juxtaposes moments of quiet intimacy and focused observation with the chaos. He writes about the simple joys of a walk in North Beach better than anyone I’ve read. He describes Dan’s passion for photography, of the transformative and soul-quieting effect it has on him with such easy grace that you know the man knows of what he speaks of. And there is one character in particular Frank, Shel’s erstwhile boyfriend during Dan’s stay in the can, who is unlike anything I’ve read in recent American Literature. He is haunted by an unimaginable tragedy, the recent murder of his wife and son, victims in a way of his own depravity and greed. Frank, as a result, has become a hollow caricature of a man, a random collections of tics and dissociative thinking, a violent and bad man with a paranoid streak a mile long. He is nothing but trouble for Shel and brings shit storms down on her and everyone around them. And yet Corbett writes about him with such nuance and specificity that he comes so completely alive and one ends up feeling awash in compassion towards him at the same time that one wants him utterly snuffed out so the characters around him can arrive at a safer, less chaotic place.
So. To loop it back up. Noir is good. Fills your bones with marrow, your loins with mojo, straightens out crooked spines, whitens teeth, freshens breath and is downright salvific in its properties. Read it. Read it. Read it. It’s good good good. And if you are going to read it(you know you are, all the cool kids are doing it) please give David Corbett a try. You won’t regret it.
This book was a damn enjoyable read. It was also bang your head on the wall exasperating.
The action moved along from page to page and Smith is good a...moreThis book was a damn enjoyable read. It was also bang your head on the wall exasperating.
The action moved along from page to page and Smith is good at descriptive prose, scene framing and character building. In setting the murder mystery in Stalinist era Russia he also has a whole built in layer of pathos and emotional richness that most thrillers don’t have. The main detective and his long suffering wife are both great characters whose relationship is rich and real. He has also created a killer who is shivers up the spine scary, believable and memorable. His examinations of the tortuous labyrinth of Soviet ’justice’ while Stalin was still alive seems spot on, hundreds of thousands of lives snuffed out and life trajectories thumbed down into the dirt by coerced confessions and overly-observant neighbors.
And yet this book made me want to scream in frustration on more then one occasion. There are such howlers of coincidence and confluence of event that I was stupefied. Smith is a fine writer in many respects why didn’t his bullshit alarm go off? Why didn’t the editor at his publishing house notice when the multiple sharks were being jumped and Fonzie still had his leather jacket on? Let me put it this way: there are plot twists in this book that would make Harlen Coben ashamed. And everyone should know what I mean by that. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
But still a great read. I read it all in one day and I seldom do that anymore. Riveting, thought provoking and though ultimately it was a let-down that is only because Smith is a writer of such promise.
Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is the best novel I’ve read this year. Originally published in 1966, and long out of print, it has been brought back...moreDon Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is the best novel I’ve read this year. Originally published in 1966, and long out of print, it has been brought back to readers in a handsome trade paperback edition by the New York Review Books Classics imprint, with a thoughtful introduction by current crime writing doyen George Pelecanos.
The book is epic in scope, covering over three decades of eventful action, from late 1920’s subsistence horse ranches to the San Francisco of the early ‘60’s, on the cusp of the sexual revolution, but still in thrall to more repressive mores. The book is mainly set in the Pacific Northwest and in Frisco. Its main protagonist is Jack Levitt- who when we first meet him, is a hard-bitten reform school thug with no talent other than fighting and a capacity to endure physical pain. Levitt’s parents are the subject of a heartbreaking opening chapter where they meet, mate and part, in a collision as ultimately as destructive for its principals as two asteroids colliding in the silent abyss of space, one that leaves you little hope for little Jack’s life trajectory. The book follows Jack through low-end working class postwar America, the pool halls of Portland and flop houses of Frisco, thorough tortuous episodes in reform school and an arc of ascending criminal activity until Levitt finds himself in San Quentin doing hard time.
Jack’s life intertwines with Billy Lancing, whom we first meet as a young, talented pool hustler in Portland when both Jack and Billy are teenagers. Billy is black and a runaway. One of the unique strengths of Hard Rain Falling, especially in comparison to its ostensible genre and other major novels published in the same era, is the clear eye and lucid prose it casts on race in America, post WWII. Carpenter poignantly captures Billy’s hurt core of being, when he recognizes his skin color makes him outcast among outcasts. There is none of the hipster jive Mailer tossed out at blacks, nor the muddled glorification some of the beats viewed blacks with.
Sexuality too is displayed in a mature, thought-provoking manner. Levitt begins his life in an orphanage because of an `itch’ his parents couldn’t help but scratch. And that same itch hounds Jack and befuddles him throughout the book, makes him feel one moment gloriously alive, one moment less than human. Carpenter’s compassion and empathy in this arena of life extends to homosexual love when it is encountered in San Quentin. It is neither viewed with contempt like latter-day tough guy scribes like Tarentino or Guillermo Arriaga nor fetishized into absurdity as in Genet. It merely is.
When Jack and Billy meet again in San Quentin, after equally heartbreaking paths, Jack further into crime and violence, Billy with an aborted attempt to maintain a family, the relationship takes on a searing intimacy and naked vulnerability that is found nowhere else in the book and that is unlike anything else I’ve read in 1960’s American Literature.
If Hard Rain Falling was merely a prison/coming of age novel it would be a wonderful success-it is a model of clarity, brevity and precise observation. But what sets it apart is the wonderful interior ramblings of Jack Levitt as he tries to make sense of the brutally senseless world he lives in, of his own rabid dog impulses, the nature of power and powerlessness, and the labyrinth and often self-lacerating ways of the human heart.It is not merely about prisons made of concrete and steel, but of the prisons of failed relationships, the odious lock-ups of diminished and dying expectations, the unforgiving solitary confinement of our own screaming skulls. NYRB on the back cover has dared to compare the novel to Dostoevsky. I don’t think it’s hyperbole. Levitt’s journey from violent thug, through the bowels of the prison system and out the other side with something like wisdom and grace touching him, easily echoes Raskolnikov or the narrator of Memoirs from the House of The Dead in its capacity to evoke redemption in the face of brutality.
Hard Rain Falling is a great American novel that NYRB deserves lasting credit for pulling from the bonfire of oblivion, even if for a short time. Carpenter deserves to be read into posterity for his technique and for his genuinely wise and empathic take on the marginals of this society, the society that marginalizes them thoughtlessly, and the tenderness, sacrifice and love that can blossom in the most heartless places imaginable.
I've never read this guy before today and that makes me sad. This is some of the finest crime fiction I've ever read and I wish I'd been reading him t...moreI've never read this guy before today and that makes me sad. This is some of the finest crime fiction I've ever read and I wish I'd been reading him the last twenty years. It makes me sad that Ross Macdonald is practically forgotten now while crime-writers who couldn't carry his metaphorical jock strap are getting six figure Hollywood deals.
This book is crammed with murderous weirdos, sexy dames and gumshoe palaver. It's all delivered in a gorgeously lush, but never overdone, poetic style that makes Chandler and Hammett look like hacks. It's got sweaty, sun-kissed Southern California Ambience to spare but also has precise meditations imbedded under the surface of it's sure plotting that lay it out cold what it's like to be a thinking human being under duress(read: just fucking breathing at all) in 20th Century America.
File under: Classic. File under: Fuck all the Francophile baboons and ball-less Nietzsche reading navel-gazers who think that Genre can't rise to the station of true Literature, true art. This book is both heart-breaking and beautiful and is as entertaining as popular art can be. Not to be missed. Essential.
This was a damn good read. It combines the cheap thrills and casual violence of a typical noir with the perfectly crafted sentences and deft-character...moreThis was a damn good read. It combines the cheap thrills and casual violence of a typical noir with the perfectly crafted sentences and deft-characterization found in a literary novel. The book is brief, maybe too brief(my ARC copy was 195 pages set in giant type with massive swathes of blank bordering) but maybe that’s a good thing after Johnson’s most recent door stop of a novel `Tree of Smoke’, a massive, tedious lunge at the great American Novel, that to me, failed miserably. `Nobody Moves’ is tight, concise and is not weighted down with the heavy freight of `Serious Literature’(say it with me now in a stuffy Boston Brahmin accent-think of John Houseman in ‘The Paper Chase’) that `Smoke’ labored under. And while the new book is a light entertainment it also is saturated with off-handedly brilliant prose, characters that come alive with a few deft strokes and the sort of action-packed plotting and explosive dénouement that less talented thriller writers would give up their collective left nuts for. Highly recommended. (less)