It’s November. The days are getting shorter and we all seem to be in a gloomy mood. What could be more bracing that to read a big bunch of noir. May we suggest a hardboiled book or three? There are hundreds of choices, from pulp paperback potboilers to dark Scandinavian frostiness. Here’s a very short sampling to get you started.
L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy. It’s got everything. Los Angeles in the ‘50s. Murder. Prostitution. Drug trafficking. Conspiracy. Political and police corruption.
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. This is the second of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories and in it Marlowe investigates two murders. There’s a missing woman, drugs, corruption, and gambling to add complication for Marlowe.
Sanctuary by William Faulkner. Noir by Faulkner? Yes. He claimed he wrote it for the money. Set during Prohibition, among bootleggers in Mississippi, the story revolves around the kidnapping of a young woman, a murder, and the ugly events that ensue.
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Two men meet on a train and talk about their lives. One man, Charles Bruno, suggests to the other, Guy Haines, that they “exchange murders”: Bruno will kill Haines’s wife if Haines will kill Bruno’s father. In 1951 Alfred Hitchcock adapted this chilling book into a terrific movie.
If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes. Himes’s hero, Bob Jones, is a black man driven by abuse at the hands of whites to near-madness in 1940s Los Angeles.
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. Banned in Boston for its violence and sexuality when it was first published in 1934. A young drifter stops for a meal at a diner in Southern California, a stop that leads to an affair with the owner’s young wife. They plot to kill the diner’s owner, “The Greek,” and things go downhill from there.
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It's one of the greatest opening sentences in fiction. The second Mrs. de Winter finds that her new home, Manderley, is overshadowed by the mysterious death of the of the first Mrs. de Winter, the Rebecca of the title. Who killed her? Can she trust her new husband? And the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers? What of her?
Noir isn’t an American or even an English-genre. It's an attitude and a dark point of view. You can read Tartan Noir, an expression coined by James Ellroy in praising the work of Scottish writer Ian Rankin and his noir novel Knots and Crosses, the first book in his Inspector Rebus series. Or William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw. There’s also Val McDermid, author of dozens of Tartan Noir choices for you to read. And from up among the icy fjords you can pick up some Nordic Noir. There are all kinds of Scandinavian authors in this genre but the popular Swedish writer Henning Mankell is a can't lose (except your sleep) place to begin.
For more advice on what to read next in crime, two good sites to visit are Stop, You're Killing Me! and Crime Fiction Lover. Or try our service for readers, Book Me! Fill out an online form and a librarian will send you a personalized list of reading suggestions.