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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s
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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s

(Crime Novels #1)

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  763 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Evolving out of the terse and violent style of the pulp magazines, noir fiction expanded over the decades into a varied, innovative and profoundly influential body of writing. The eleven novels in The Library of America’s adventurous two-volume collection taps deep roots in the American literary imagination, exploring themes of crime, guilt, deception, obsessive passion, m ...more
Hardcover, 990 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Library of America
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I guess I'm giving this thing three stars, because of the six novels in here three I found too dull to get through, and the other three just totally blew my brains out with awesome.

The three great ones served me that ever-helpful reminder about the importance of Balls in Fiction. There's always been some lame, cringing part of me that believes fiction needs to be careful, responsible, fact-checked, and intelligent, and preferably about boring, unhappy adults having subtle but poignant though not
I have never been a huge fan for American literature (although Poe and Lovecraft were both American citizens, but still) however, through various novels from the 1930s to 1950s Noir/hard boiled genre, I get a taste of American literature which I can enjoy and adore; in this series of meaty, solidly written short novels with human's desire, fear and despair which feels very down-to-earth and real.

Reviews on the stories I read:

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

The formal of the story is a bit stran
Jan 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pulp-fiction
This is a wonderful book to own. I'm still reading it, but will update this as I get through the included novels. These novels are desperate, intense, depressed, wild, carnal; they are America in the Great Depression, an America where morals are always being tested by the threat of starvation. It's as if the whole country were the soccer team whose airplane crashed in the Andes, battling its own hunger and its instinct towards cannibalism. These novels are truly the heirs of 19th century Natural ...more
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What can you say about a book this good? For $25 you get 6, count 'em 6 of the very best classic American noir novels of all time: The Postman Always Rings Twice; They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; Thieves Like Us; The Big Clock; Nightmare Alley; and I Married a Dead Man. All this with a real cloth-bound hardcover, sewn in numbers, headbands, a beautiful book. Author notes, footnotes, chronology.

If you think noir is all about private dicks and dames, well think again, there isn't a detective prota
Most immediately, I'll be reading Thieves Like Us, The Big Clock, Nightmare Alley, and I Married a Dead Man from this collection. Then I'll be rereading Postman and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

UPDATE: I finished "Thieves Like Us." It was quite impressive, actually. Anderson's Depression-era crime novel follows three bank robbers (particularly the youngest one, Bowie) as they escape from jail and start a crime spree.

What's particularly fascinating about this novel is its relation to the "hardbo
Bleak Mouse
Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. And it includes forgotten or neglected noir greats like Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, and Cornell Woolrich. Forget Hemingway, and read this stuff instead.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm particularly curious about Cornell Woolrich, whom I've never read.


I've been meaning to read "I Married a Dead Man" since 96 or something, because I watched "Mrs. Winterbourne" every time it appeared on cable for a month.

Wow. This is freaking fabulous. Woolrich manages to strike exactly the right note with Patrice, her longing for this family, and this life, her love for her son, and her terror. The slowly building paranoia is shown in three similar short chapters, that are a text book for
Jared Colley
May 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Pulp Fiction and Hard Boiled Narratives
Shelves: fiction
This is a great collection of American Noir; it represents the genre at its best. Cain's novel, The Postman..., is simply my favorite of his work. There is something dark and existential about it; it makes sense that French crtitics would be the ones to name this type of narrative as "Noir". It's like if Camus were a product of the New Deal America or something. The other bright moment, for me, is K. Fearing's novel, The Big Clock. Unlike most pulp, this novel is outright hilarious; its mood and ...more
Zack Makepiece
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
An embarrassment of riches - a perfect collection of short novels. And not just a clearing house of familiar genre classics either, as this was the only place for years that you could get Edward Anderson's Thieves Like Us, and remains as of this writing the only place William Gresham's Nightmare Alley is in print in its original prose form. Neither the Anderson nor the Gresham have seen many printings, so this is the easiest way to read them, even if you can get all the others cheap and in paper ...more
May 21, 2012 added it
I'm not really finished, I'm more "finished." Bleakest 900 pages I've ever seen. In case you thought that the first half of the century was more religious than ours, read these and be swiftly, brutally disillusioned.
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing collection of great books.
Robin Friedman
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Noir In The Library Of America

In 1997, the Library of America published two volumes of American crime novels written in a noir style. Robert Polito, an editor, author, and scholar of noir literature selected the contents of the volumes. The first volume, which I am reviewing here, included six novels written in the 1930's and 1940's while the second volume included an additional five novels from the 1950's. The Library of America has the commendable goal of presenting the best and most represent
Derek Davis
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This covers 6 novels under one cover.
The 5 stars are not an average, but an inducement to pick up this remarkable collection of narratives that, in some deliciously tilted way, show who America was in the mid-20th century. On literary merit – what a condescending way to say it – on personal to me merit, they would average 4.
Top of the heap, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Horace McCoy's focused, infused look at a marathon of negated life, put in the context of the marathon dance contests of the
Kenzie Barnett
Mar 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Certainly an interesting book that gives you plenty to read from. However, the difference in stories and range can be little off-putting, and the strange common thread between them all has the reader simply wanting the tale to end. Though they all seem to deal with crime, some do it better than others, making the book interesting if you want to sample the spectrum of writing during this time period. Certain stories stick out more than others, though that can be equated to the individual, so that ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a nice little collection, very enjoyable. Six mystery novellas from another time, some you have likely heard of before (The Postman Always Rings Twice, They Shoot Horses Don't They?), others by authors not so familiar, but all good, and some good psychology. I especially liked the convolutions of Nightmare Alley. Highly recommended.
Robert Sutherland
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing collection of stories and novels that delve into the dark side of America in the 30s and 40s.
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Noir fans
Shelves: crime
This was my second crack at The Postman Always Rings Twice. An omnibus of Cain's writing passed around The Moscow Times when I was there turned me on to noir fiction but I had forgotten most of the details. It's every bit as great as I hazily recalled. If not the winner of a shootout to be the noir novel, it's certainly close enough to be plugged as an innocent bystander.

The other reason I picked this collection up was They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. In my teens I fell asleep during the movie wh
Feb 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of the Library of America and was intrigued to see this (and it's companion volume covering the '50's) title released. I found it interesting that an organization that is, by their own description, "dedicated to preserving America's best and most significant writing" would choose to explore a style that was often the province of low-budget serials. It seems that the novels contained in this book are not examples of "America's best ... writing", at least in the conventional sense. T ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-noir
I read this at least a couple years ago, so I can't go into great detail about it. I can say that it is a fantastic collection of crime classics. These are not detective novels. They are novels about people who commit crimes, why they did it, and how they deal with it. For the most part, the prose is clean and tight and easy to read. (Gresham's Nighmare Alley, the only exception, is stylistically complex, but in a good way. Nightmare Alley was made into a good film with Tyrone Power; also, just ...more
Emma Lynne
Feb 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Picked it up because it contained "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" which was well worth the trip to the SFPL main library branch. I was on a "dark side of the Hollywood" kick after just re-reading "The Day of the Locust."
I held onto it because of "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Because of this, the collection gets three stars. I couldn't get into any of the other stories. "Thieves Like Us" became a movie that I rather enjoyed, but the written version just dragged on, to me. I tried the other st
the gift
starts off with a bang- could read postman again and again- some structural innovation in they shoot…- thieves like us is a great movie too- absurdist crime in big clock also a good movie- bleak fall in nightmare- ends with moral but maybe unneeded depression in i married… all of these are good, some great, all tense and short, mostly, can easily see why experimental novelists are drawn to crime: everything, anything, can be driven by essential conflicts of crime. and that they are so good in a ...more
Aug 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Most of the novels in this collection are stellar, but Double Indemnity would have been a better choice than Postman, and I Married a Dead Man is an unfortunate selection.
Thieves Like Us is incredible, and I have never found an edition of either Nightmare Alley or The Big CLock, so. with those considerations this is an essential volume.
Funny that 'noir' was not really a genre back then, and its later use was applied to movies based on these books.
Much of this collection is more ensconced in melo
Jill Hutchinson
If you have any interest at all in the noir thrillers of the mid-20th century, this is the book for you. It contains six stories of such darkness and despair that you will be looking over your shoulder for the specter of death and misfortune sneaking up behind you. Each of these carefully selected short stories has been brought to the screen in various forms.........even if you have seen the films, it is worth your time to read the originals. These are the masterpieces of the genre and be warned ...more
Aug 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: partial-read
As I read them:

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? *** - This dark story goes beyond cynicism to nihilism. The claustrophobic setting of the physically and mentally brutal dance marathon is an excellent setting to highlight the unfortunate lives of the participants. The desperate hopelessness of Gloria, and the other dancers, weigh on Robert and lead to his decision to perform the ultimate act of mercy . This kind of novel is not quite my thing, but one can’t read it without having it affect you. (1
I picked this book up to read "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" because the title intrigued me. Glancing at the back cover, I noted the description of the novel, "a turbulent, experimental portrayal of marathon." What!? I decided to read it anyway, and despite the apparently thin premise, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" is an edgy and surprisingly modern noir drama. I pictured Gloria Beatty, with her morbid cynicism, as a proto-SuicideGirl or 30s-era Lisbeth Salander.
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this a couple years ago, but I'm reading the next in the series so I thought it was worth noting.

Thoroughly enjoyable, surprising, vicious little stories. There are some real gems in there. I sure can't read modern "crime novels," but somehow these ones stand up with a remarkable vibrancy. It's a collection so they're hit and miss and the high rating I gave them should take that into consideration, but as a whole it was a great read.
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've been intrigued by "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" Since I was a kid, and the movie was nominated for some Academy Awards. The title intrigued me, but I knew nothing about it, except that it was about a dance marathon. I was excited to see it was included in this LOA title. It was an interesting, very quick look into the noir style, and well worth the search.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Currently grooving on these noir books of the 1930's. Recently finished Cain's Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity. This collection includes The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Jeremy Garber
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting collection of depressing yet cutting-edge crime stories. By far the best was "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", an interesting story about two young adults in the midst of existential despair and a marathon dance session.
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
The noir "Crime Novels" anthologies in the Library of America series include many iconic tales from the genre. All of them are worth reading, whether for enjoyment or to understand the range of styles and stories in noir.
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  • Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window
  • Crime Stories and Other Writings
  • Five Noir Novels of the 1940s & 50s: Dark Passage / Nightfall / The Burglar / The Moon in the Gutter / Street of No Return
  • I Married a Dead Man
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce and Selected Stories
  • The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps
  • The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936–1941: The Long Valley / The Grapes of Wrath / The Log from the Sea of Cortez / The Harvest Gypsies
  • Novels and Stories 1920–1922: This Side of Paradise / Flappers and Philosophers / The Beautiful and Damned / Tales of the Jazz Age
  • The Big Clock
  • Nightmare Alley
  • Complete Novels: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter / Reflections in a Golden Eye / The Ballad of the Sad Cafe / The Member of the Wedding / Clock Without Hands
  • The Sheltering Sky / Let It Come Down / The Spider's House
  • Novels 1956–1964: Seize the Day / Henderson the Rain King / Herzog
  • Main Street / Babbitt
  • Pick-Up
  • Novels 1936–1940: Absalom, Absalom! / The Unvanquished / If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem / The Hamlet
  • Early Novels & Stories: Go Tell It on the Mountain / Giovanni’s Room / Another Country / Going to Meet the Man
  • Complete Novels: The Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, The Ponder Heart, Losing Battles, The Optimist's Daughter
Robert Polito (born 1951) is an American academic, critic and poet. He has been Director of the Writing Program at The New School since 1992. He received the National Book Critics Circle Award and an Edgar Award for Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson.

Other books in the series

Crime Novels (4 books)
  • Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s
  • American Noir: 11 Classic Crime Novels of the 1930s, 40s, & 50s
  • Five Noir Novels of the 1940s & 50s: Dark Passage / Nightfall / The Burglar / The Moon in the Gutter / Street of No Return