Category Archives: Noir fiction

John le Carre, my 2020 and The Looking Glass War

It is fitting that my last post on this site for 2020 is a short tribute to the passing of a writer who has given me an enormous amount of pleasure during this difficult year, David John Moore Cornwell or as he is better known, John le Carré. Since his death on December 12, a sea of ink has been spilt on le Carré’s influence on the spy novel and his undoubted merits as a writer. I don’t intend to go over this territory again. Instead, I want to briefly discuss what it is about his George Smiley series I have found so fascinating. I also want to talk about one of the films based on his work that I believe does not get nearly enough praise, Frank R Pierson’s 1970 adaptation of le Carré’s 1965 novel, The Looking Glass War.

Melbourne, the city I live in, spent the better part of 2020 in hard lockdown in response to the Covid 19 virus. Reading was one of my many responses to suddenly finding myself with more free time. One very wet, cold Saturday morning at the outset of winter I picked up a paperback I bought ages ago – I can’t even remember when and where – the 1964 Penguin Crime edition of Call for the Dead.… Read more

The long, dark legacy of William Hjorstberg’s supernatural neo noirs

One of the great things in the not so great year that was 2020 has been writing regularly for the excellent American site, CrimeReads. My latest for them is live and looks at the the supernatural neo noirs of the late writer, William Hjorstberg.

Hjorstberg’s 1978 book Falling Angel was the basis for Alan Parker’s 1987 supernatural thriller, Angel Heart. Posthumously published for the first time in paperback by Britain’s No Exit Press, the sequel, Angel’s Inferno continues the story of the down at heel private detective, Harry Angel, who takes a routine missing person case and becomes ensnared in an occult nightmare.

Only Angel is now Favorite, the amoral crooner who sold his soul to the devil for fame, then stole Angel’s identity in an attempt to evade payment. And he’s in Paris, determined to hunt down and exact revenge on Lucifer’s earthly manifestation, Louis Cypher.

I was particularly fascinated by the differences between Falling Angel and Parker’s film version, one of several things I write about in my piece which you can read in full here on the crime reads site.

Enjoy.

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The strange history of Mickey Spillane and New Zealand’s “Jukebox Killer”

The third in a loose series of pieces I’ve done this year for the Lithub site, CrimeReads, on the global impact on postwar American crime fiction is live. This one explores at the connections between the postwar campaign against pulp fiction, the international controversy around US author Mickey Spillane, the uniquely Antipodean youth subculture known as bodgies & widgies, & one of New Zealand’s most sensational murder cases in the 1950s, the ‘Jukebox Killer’.You can read the piece in full at the CrimeReads site via this link.Read more

Book review: Blacktop Wasteland

If you spend any time in the social media circles concerned with crime fiction, in all likelihood you will have heard of S. A. Crosby and his book, Blacktop Wasteland. It has been out in the US for ages, during which time I was reading a tonne of positive commentary. Then I stumbled across the little publicised fact that an Australian edition has been released.

Beauregard ‘Bug’ Montage is a hard-working mechanic with a wife and two young sons, who wants a happy marriage, for his kids to get more that he has out of life, and his auto repair business to do well. Unfortunately, said business is just a few weeks from going under financially. On top of this he needs to find a large amount of money to keep his embittered mother in aged care, where she is dying of cancer (seriously, the US health system is a crime story in itself). He also has to somehow also rustle up college tuition fees for his teenage daughter from an earlier relationship.

Beauregard has a previous criminal life he is trying to leave behind. This is hard because he was very good at what he did – driving. The ghosts of his former life also hang around him in the form of his late father, a charismatic criminal in his own right who disappeared to parts unknown when Beauregard was a child, leaving his son with a lifelong love/hate obsession for him.… Read more

“Every headlight’s a police car, every shadow is a cop”: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

I have been writing a bit this year on the phenomenal popularity of faux American crime fiction in post-war culture in places like Australia and Great Britain. By this I mean crime fiction written and produced in these countries that not only mimicked the atmosphere and tropes of hardboiled American mystery novels and film, but was set in mythical versions of big American cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This fiction, for example many of the books written by Australian crime fiction author Alan Yates aka Carter Brown, was sometimes even mistaken for the genuine thing.

One of the countless cultural offshoots of the United States’ emergence as the dominant global power after World War II, the success of faux American crime fiction is often associated with the wide penetration of film noir and American writers such as Mickey Spillane. But as I wrote in this piece on the popularity of the controversial 1939 James Hadley Chase novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, its roots go much deeper; the influence of pre-war writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and W. R Burnett. Also the private detective and mystery fiction contained in the mass-produced American pulp fiction magazines that flooded into markets such as Australia and Great Britain in the 1930s.… Read more