Thursday, February 1, 2018

[Link] Noir Fiction

by Warren Bull

I’ve been asked what inspires me to write noir fiction.

“Noir” (black in French) was reportedly first used by film critic Nino Franklin in 1946 to describe the downbeat, bleak themes of American crime movies released in France such as The Maltese Falcon, Murder My Sweet and Double Indemnity. Those films reflected the anxieties and disillusionment of the times. They stand out in contrast to the optimistic comedies and musicals also made at the time.

Writers like Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolridge, and James M. Cain helped to establish the form. Hard-boiled detective stories often portrayed a cynical, underappreciated man dealing with lying clients, threats and violent hard cases in a corrupt world. The primary difference between hard-boiled and noir fiction is that the hard-boiled detective has an ethical core, even if no one else does. The ending may or may not be happy, but the central figure is definitely heroic. As Otto Penzler has written, in noir there are no heroes and no happy endings. The focus is on “losers” driven by destructive impulses such as greed, lust or revenge who make choices that lead them further along a downward spiral toward doom. Although sometimes described as hyper-masculine writing, Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes among other women writers produced excellent noir fiction.

Noir continues to evolve over time expanding to locations, eras, and characters beyond what the originators of the form imagined.

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