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The Best American Noir of the Century

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,184 ratings  ·  155 reviews
In his introduction to the The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, “noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that ...more
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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James Thane
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction, noir
James Ellroy and Otto Penzler have collected in this volume a large number of very dark crime stories spanning the years from 1910 to 2010. Included are stories by a number of very familiar writers like Mickey Spillane, Gil Brewer, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Lawrence Block, and Elmore Leonard. There are also works by a number of lesser-known writers, but the stories are uniformly good and most of them won awards of one kind or another.

My personal favorites are probably James Crum
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Though one can quibble over whether all of these are actually noir or not, on the whole this is an excellent collection by some of the most revered writers in the genre as well as a whole bunch that are new to me.

As another reviewer so aptly put it: "If I had to define "noir" just based on reading this anthology, it would be this: Hopeless or hapless people living hopeless or hapless lives inevitably ruined by crime or defying taboos (or in just two or three cases, lives painfully redeemed, but
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
will read this book off and on for some time to come. a good cross section of the genre. of particular interest is the James M. Cain story which is one of the more perfect stories I've read, tailor made for my aesthetics ...more
robin friedman
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
An Anthology Of Noir Stories

I needed a wedge to get into this lengthy anthology "Best American Noir of the Century", which consists of 39 stories and over 730 pages. My wedge was David Goodis (1917 -- 1969), a writer I have come to know through the Library of America: "David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s (Library of America)". A 1953 Goodis short story unknown to me, "Professional Man", is included in this volume, and I was hooked. Set in his native Philadelphia, Goodis' story te
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Other reviews of this collection often debated if all the stories selected for this book can truly be called “noir”. Since I struggle to even pronounce “noir” correctly, I will avoid that debate completely. These stories were dark and gritty and could I read no more than one or two a week often accompanied by a glass of wine for the nerves. Everyone will have their own favorites and their own dogs. I jumped around throughout the collection rather than reading in chronicnoligcal order but I found ...more
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most interesting part of this noir collection is editor Otto Penzler's foreword. He insists that the hard-boiled PI and true noir stories are fundamentally different. The former will always star a hero while the latter an antihero. This belief impacts the book a lot. The best and most recognizable writers of the genre - Hammett and Chandler does not show up, nor does anybody who follow their template. Interestingly Penzler also cites Taxi Driver as one of the best noirs after Hollywood golde ...more
Spurs by Tod Robbins
A circus story from 1930s a tale of a small man, part of the freak show side the circus, with a big heart for a beautiful horseback rider. A match not possibly made in heaven as the bride to be has other plans for her new husband. Her heart is cold for him but warm for wealth, she plots and advises of her plans to a different person she wishes to be married to in the future also a performer in their circus. The small man turns out to be harder to crack than she thought and sh
Joe Murray
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When a book boasts the monumental declaration, The Best American Noir of the Century, it damn well better stand up to scrutiny—all prodigious 752 pages of it. And so it was with relish that I tucked into this meaty and bloody feast from arguably the finest literary writers of noir America has ever produced, hoping for some tasty morsels. The Best American Noir of the Century is a colossal collection of 39 short stories dating from as far back as 1923, right up to 2007, and selected by James Ellr ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
This book is wrongly named. It claims to contain the best American noir of the century - but which century is that? The collection covers the years 1923 to 2007, which is 84 years from two different centuries. Also, a lot of the best American noir is found in novel form. So this book should really have been called 'The Best American Noir Short Stories from an 84-year period' except that doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Ah well. This will be another of those story-by-story reviews that I keep
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Favourite Stories:
Tod Robbins "Spurs" - Dark and funny
Steve Fisher "You'll Always Remember Me" - Salinger-esque
Day Keene "Nothing to Worry About" - Dark and funny
Howard Browne "Man in the Dark" - Classic Noir
David Goodis "Professional Man" - Good ending
Charles Beaumont "The Hunger" - Creepy
Evan Hunter "The Last Spin" - Cute
Cornell Woolrich "For the Rest of Her Life" - Really dark
David Morell "The Dripping" - Really creepy
Patricia Highsmith "Slowly, Slowly in the Wind" - Dark and funny
James Lee B
Paul Ataua
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one is awesome. Yes, there are great , good, ok, and not so good stories, but it is just such a well put together collection. The kindle edition has a contents page; you click on a story, get a short bio followed by what more often than not is a coffee time read, and when you finish the story, there is a link that takes you right back to the contents. Some great stories and a fantastic James Ellroy introduction that I think really nails the concept of noir.
Brad Hodges
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The first thing we usually talk about when we talk about noir is what is it? I belong to a Facebook group on film noir and much of the discussion is whether a particular film is noir or not. Most of the time I have a "I know it when I see it" attitude about it, but film noir should concern both a crime and a protagonist of dubious morality, who is destroyed by his greed, a woman, or both. They should not have happy endings.

The term was coined by a French critic in 1946 to characterize Hollywood
COUNTDOWN: Mid-Century North American Crime
BOOK/Short 176 (0f 250) - And a huge Shout Out to the many excellent Otto Penzler collections!
The Homecoming" is my focus from this collection, and it's an important work for many reasons.
First, it's post-war 1946. Second, Otto Penzler, editor of the entire collection, tells us that Dorothy Hughes is the first female "to fall squarely in the hard-boiled school." This story, Penzler goes on to say, first appeared in "Murder Calvacade", the first 'Writers
It is hard to review a collection of short stories (do you rate based on the average ratings of all the stories or how you felt of the book as a whole?). This collection of Noir short stories, is well worth reading for all Noir and Hard-Boiled fans. Full of grittiness, vengeance, murder and macabre; I loved every minute of this book.

Individual Breakdown of the Short Stories
Spurs by Tod Robbins (1923) -- 3/5
Pastorale by James M. Cain (1928) -- 4/5
You'll Always Remember Me by Steve Fisher (1938) -
I read this compilation as part of the 387 Short Story Challenge - one story a day for the past month or so. There are about 30 out of these 35 stories I really liked, but only a handful of them make the amazing grade.

So after much thought, I'm not going to be tempted into rating it five stars. Given how dark & depressing these stories can be, I'm not gonna take this up even for selective reading anytime soon. That being said, this is not to be missed at any cost by fans of crime fiction & noir.
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
If I was a horror fan I might have enjoyed these. As a noir far, however, it was a disappointment. Of these stories only one or two of them felt like noir. Most of them felt like horror. SOme of it better than others, and cetianly creepy and atmospheric, but overall, a disappointment. I ultimately gave up halfway through the book because I wanted to read a collection of noir stories and frankly, that's not what I got. ...more
Warren Stalley
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Best American Noir of the Century collects together a wide range of crime authors from the U.S. and is a great way to find interesting writers who you may not have come across before. Each story is preceded by a brief yet informative introduction to the author. All the pieces were interesting in one way or another but some of my personal favourites were as follows:

Nothing To Worry About – Day Keene
A teenage boy thinks he’s got away with murder but his homicidal tendencies may yet give him aw
Aaron Poorman
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: subliminalmaybe
I'm back from my blogging hiatus now that another semester has passed. How long this return will last before I'm pulled entirely back into my studies I can't be sure. Still, it is nice to have time for reading for fun again. The Best American Noir of the Century is a collection compiled by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. It's a massive book with nearly forty stories, and stretches as far back as 1923 (Tom Robbins' "Spurs" and as recently as 2007 (Lorenzo Carcaterra's "Missing The Morning Bus") fo ...more
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some short stories are better than others in this collection but James Lee Burke's "Texas City, 1947" is by itself, worth the price of the book. Billy Bob is a young Cajun boy growing up in very tough family circumstances in 1947 South Texas. His teacher is a wonderfully drawn Catholic Nun who becomes a kind of surrogate mother. The boy's name is Billy Bob but it could just as well be Dave, as in Dave Robicheaux. All the characters gut wrenching emotions jump off the pages like a punch in the th ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Did... I feel "repulsed and titillated" while reading this, as James Ellroy claimed I would?: YES.  Forget horror, noir is the best way to get a chill up one's spine!

Did... I find myself crushing on all the wrong people?: YES.  There's something so deadly sexy about a good femme fatale!

Did... I feel very grateful that I had this as an e-book edition?: YES, mostly.  At 731 pages, I wouldn't have been able to carry a hard copy around on my commute, but this is the kind of book that begs to be he
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthologies
If you’re already a fan of the genre, you’ll be pleased with this magnificent edition. If you don’t know what noir is, then this is a splendid introduction.

In fact, if you’re a novice, the editors James Ellroy and Otto Penzler each provide a brief introduction offering their interpretations of the term. Penzler contends noir is a “…prodigiously overused term to describe a certain type of film or literary work” which is actually “…virtually impossible to define, but everyone thinks they know it w
Jeff Lanter
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
It can be hard to find good noir and for me anyway, noir scratches a reading itch that no other story can touch. There's something about a flawed character meeting their doomed fate that speaks to this overly pragmatic and cynical person. Life all too often feels like a noir setting and I think that is why I relish noir so much (well that and it probably confirms my world view to a certain extent too).

This huge collection is full of noir stories going back quite a ways in the 1900's. It is impre
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
Since this is a rather thick book (800 pages) of short stories, I suspect that I'll be reading it for awhile. But it is worth the read, especially if you really want to learn what the Noir genre is. Guy Savage reviewed this book for MostlyFiction ( and one of things he points out is to read Otto Penzler's introduction for a better understanding of the delineations under the umbrella of crime fiction, especially when it comes to the term "Noir." This is go ...more
As this is my year of reading primarily short story/essays/anthologies/collections, I was surprised at how much I loved this compilation. My favorite was Harlan Ellison’s “Mefisto in Onyx”. Outstanding!!!!! Out of the 39 stories, with publication dates spanning from 1923-2007, I did not finish only three of them and of the remaining 36 I would have given most all of them four or five stars. A must-read for fans of this genre.
Jeremy Good

Like most anthologies, it's a bit hit and miss. Most intriguing was the editorial take on noir, a bit idiosyncratic perhaps challenging traditional notions of noir. Maybe half the collection started around the 90s and took us into the new millenium. So we seem to have here an ambitious attempt to keep noir relevant today and I guess it always has been, even in "pre-noir" times?!

If I had to define "noir" just based on reading this anthology, it would be this: Hopeless or hapless people living hop
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Avid noir fans and short story fans.
Recommended to Mary by: No one- it leapt off the library shelf into my hands.
I still find great joy in 'discovering' writers I have never heard of who have managed to make their way into the canon despite all odds, such as the fellow who tried for forty years (FORTY YEARS!) to get published, and when at last he made it, his work became part of the Oscar inner circle as well. The little bios before each piece help place the writers in context. All in all a terrific collection edited by an author I discovered "backwards" -- I saw L.A. Confidential and fell in love, and now ...more
Bryan Alexander
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
A delightful romp though literary noir. The selection ranges through the 20th century, emphasizing the later decades more than the earlier.

Stories cover a lot of ground within the introduction's fairly specific genre definition. Tales work with other domains and genres, including crime, mystery, sex, science fiction, and horror.

Interesting to see so much rural, rather than urban noir. We often associate the genre with hard-bitten city streets.
Sarah Delacueva
I enjoy noir film, so I thought I would like these stories, but just couldn't get into it. What I did read was pretty uneven. A couple I read were good, and others I just didn't enjoy at all. Eventually I put it down and never found my way back... ...more
Larry Carr
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great wide ranging collection of short stories. Editors Penzler and Ellroy know their writers and subject. The bio synopsis proceeding each story is a perfect introduction, plus a valuable reference for readers seeking more from these authors. Job very well done, noir on....
DeAnna Knippling
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A much broader selection than I was expecting. Highly recommend for horror readers.
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James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York ...more

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