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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and…

Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings… (edition 1997)

by Horace McCoy (Editor), Kenneth Fearing, William Lindsay Gresham, Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain2 more, Edward Anderson, Robert Polito (Editor)

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Title:Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / Nightmare ... a Dead Man (Library of America) (Vol 1)
Authors:Horace McCoy
Other authors:Kenneth Fearing, William Lindsay Gresham, Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain, Edward Anderson1 more, Robert Polito (Editor)
Info:Library of America (1997), Hardcover, 990 pages
Collections:Your library

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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s by Robert Polito (Editor)



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» See also 23 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
"The postman always rings twice" by James M. Cain
"They shoot horses, don't they?" by Horace McCoy
"Thieves like Us" by Edward Andersen
"The big clock" by Kenneth Fearing
"Nightmare alley" by William Lindsay Gresham
"I married a dead man" by Cornell Woolrich
  IICANA | Apr 18, 2016 |
A review of some of the short stories:

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

  • They Shoot Horses Don't They? by Horace McCoy

  • The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing

  • and three others:

    • Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson

    • Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

    • I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich

    From The Postman Always Rings Twice~ I have always wanted to know what this story was all about. Written in 1934 it tells the sexy, gritty tale of Frank Chambers, a drifter who finds himself grounded by Cora Papadakis, a married woman. Cora's beauty and instant mutual attraction leads to Frank's uncharacteristic staying put. Soon the adulterous couple is contemplating murder. The plot is timeless. Desire has led them to the devil's doorstep.
    Favorite lines: "I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church" (p13).
    "Then the devil went to bed with us, and believe you me, kid, he sleeps pretty good" (p 70).
    What Nancy had to say about : "...filled with desperate, scheming men and women..." (Pearl, Nancy. Book Lust, p66).

    From They Shoot Horses Don't They?: This was a bizarre, psychological tale about two kids with very different dreams. Robert is looking to be a film producer and Gloria wants to be an actress. They pair up and enter a Hollywood dance contest knowing Hollywood bigwigs would be in attendance. The contest is all about making money, working the contestants like racehorses, making bigger and better stunts to attract sponsors and a bigger audience. Analogies to horse racing are abundant. From the title of the book it is obvious what happens in the end, but it's a fascinating read just the same.
    What Nancy had to say, "...wonderfully grungy dance-marathon nightmare novel" (Book Lust p 67).

    From Thieves Like Us ~ : I found this to be a very slow moving, almost methodical story. Written in 1937 it tells the tale of three bank robbers: Elmo Mobley, T.W. Masefeld and Bowie A. Bowers. While the story of these thieves as fugitives on the run is interesting, what makes the entire piece come alive is the vivid imagery used to describe the landscape these men hide in. Across Texas and Oklahoma's back country there are many farmhouses and hideaways to keep the story moving. Favorite lines: Oddly enough, the dedication caught my eye: "To my cousin and my wife, because there I was with an empty gun and you, Roy, supplied the ammunition and you, Anne, directed my aim" (p 216). Here's where my sick mind went with this: Roy (the cousin) had an affair with Anne (the wife). Don't mind me.
    Second favorite line: "The moon hung in the heavens like a shred of fingernail" (p 224). There have been a lot of interesting moon descriptions, but I liked this one a lot.

    The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing started out slow. George Stroud works for a conglomerate of magazines in their Crimeways department. He is a simple family man with a wife and daughter, but his dreams and ambitious are big. When he has an affair with his boss's girlfriend and she winds up bludgeoned to death things get a little tricky. It's a story of conspiracy and cat and mouse. George must prove his innocence when everything points to the contrary. Once it gets going it's fascinating!
    From The Big Clock: "The eye saw nothing but innocence, to the instincts she was undiluted sex, the brain said here was a perfect hell" (p 383), "He said how nice Georgette was looking which was true, how she always reminded him of carnivals and Hallowe'en" (p 385) and "I could feel the laborious steps her reasoning took before she reached a tentative, spoken conclusion" (p 393).
    What Nancy Pearl had to say, "...edgy corporate-as-hell thriller" (Book Lust p 66).

    Nightmare Alley was intriguing on many different levels. It was the ultimate "what goes around comes around" story. The lives of carnival entertainers serves as the backdrop for Stanton Carlise's rise and fall. He joins the carnival and soon picks of the tricks of Zeena, the Seer. Once Stan the Great learns the craft (an inadvertently commits murder) he leaves the carny and sets out on his own as a Mentalist, becoming greedier and greedier for taking the sucker's buck. Soon he passes himself off as a priest with the capability of bringing loved ones back from the dead. Constantly running from troubles in his own life Stan gets himself deeper and deeper until no one is trustworthy.

    I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich was probably my favorite. You don't know much about Helen Georgesson before she assumes the identity of Patrice Hazzard. The facts are Helen is a pregnant girl, riding the rails with 17 cents to her name. A chance encounter and a terrible accident leave Helen with a case of mistaken identity. For the opportunity to start life anew and give her baby a better life Helen accepts Patrice's identity as her own. Living the life of luxury doesn't come easy when Helen's past comes to town and threatens to unveil her true self. ( )
      SeriousGrace | Jan 4, 2012 |
    The Big Clock is a short book which is one of the five novels in this volume
    I first read Kenneth Fearing's poetry in the American Poet Project's edition. I enjoyed it very much. He has a working class frame of mind and writes very well. Then I discovered in the Library of America's American Noir 1930's and 40's this book. It is crime suspense and I read the last 20 pages very fast because I had to find out how it was going to end. The twist of the story is the protagonist knows his boss murdered someone because he saw him with her right before the murder. The boss saw him but couldn't identify him and the boss assigns him to find the person who saw him with the victim. It is beyond a page turner and the end was very satisfying. ( )
      wildbill | Oct 21, 2011 |
    only read the first novel, the postman always rings twice. i think i may be missing some huge allegory or insight or something. there was no postman, no doorbell, and no one ringing twice. i kept waiting but . . .

    couldn't have been a starker contrast between this book and the last one i read. not much character development, never got to really dig into the main characters head--though it would have been very interesting. story carried mainly by the interesting dialogue and sudden twists and turns. loved the ironic ending.

    moral of the story: murder is not a good foundation to build a romantic relationship on. oddly enough though, i became so wrapped up in the love affair and them getting together that when the first attempt failed, i was disappointed. then when they succeeded and they were going through the trial, i just wanted them to be free in their love. their love quickly turned to jealousy and suspicion and crumbled. i guess this could be taken as a parable for adultery. for by the end, the justice i was warding off became the justice i needed.
      Rocky_Wing | Aug 3, 2011 |
    The Postman Always Rings Twice (read, but not rated)

    They Shoot Horses Don't They **** 1/2
    Reminiscent in style and attitude of Thieves Like Us, this is a tersely told, very short novel about a young man who meets a girl accidentally on the streets of Hollywood and enters a dance marathon with her, leading to tragic consequences. There's no mystery - you know from the first page that he has killed his partner with a shot to the head. The chapters of the book take place in between the words of the judge's sentence at his trial. McCoy's triumph as a writer, then, is not sucking you into a mystery, but in justifying the event the reader knows is coming. He succeeds brilliantly, with hardly a false note, in a novel that will shock you from time to time with its blunt language. After reading this (again, like Thieves Like Us), it will forever color your feelings about the Depression-era 1930s.

    Thieves Like Us **** 1/2 (repeated from my review of a separate copy of this book)
    Very compelling story of a group of bank robbers and murderers who escape from an Oklahoma prison and what happens to them afterward as they start a new crime spree across the Southwest during the Depression. Especially effective when the focus shifts to the youngest and smartest, Bowie, as he tries but fails to put the past behind him with his new love, Keetchie. Inevitably sad and bittersweet, Anderson tells the story simply and totally effectively, so that it will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.

    Certainly has its relevance in these times, as well. Thieves Like Us, indeed.

    The Big Clock *** (repeated from my review of a separate copy of this book)
    This is a cleverly plotted novel that holds your attention until the disappointing ending, when the author just seems to stop caring. While "The Big Clock" is better plotted than the other Fearing novel I have reviewed, "Dagger of the Mind", both suffer from a cast of characters who are almost uniformly unlikable. Fearing delights in showing the quirks and weaknesses of his cast, and he does it in an ironic matter that lends an air of unreality to the whole proceedings, even though the flawed characters he depicts are much closer to reality than the cut and dried black or white characters usually found in noir fiction or pulp novels. He also goes in for stunts such as having the main character named "George", his wife named "Georgette" and their daughter being called "Georgia". As a result, neither book ever really affects you emotionally - they are written at a purely intellectual level, reflecting the type of cerebral person Fearing probably was. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the characters were modeled on people he knew.

    In any case, despite these weaknesses, everything hums along nicely and you wonder how the main character, George Stroud, is ever going to get out of his predicament. Either he winds up on somebody's hit list or he loses his marriage. Perhaps Fearing couldn't figure out a good ending either. He used impeccable logic to hem his character in with no escape - then he drops in a deus ex machina type ending that leaves far too many loose ends - such as whatever happened to the ongoing police investigation. Truly annoying - I'm tempted to go back and remove another half star....

    Nightmare Alley **** 1/2
    I’m not sure there is any such thing as an epic noir novel, which is why the inclusion of William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley in this volume seems a bit wrong. Noir tends to be focused, often on the quest of a single individual to solve a crime (or commit one), and even a fairly lengthy noir novel like Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, while it may ramble a bit, is still tightly focused since the story unfolds through the eyes of a single character.

    Nightmare Alley, however, has everything in it, including a few scenes with sinks, though perhaps not a kitchen one. Lots of the elements of the story are noir staples, of course, particularly the early scenes in a carnival. Gresham’s story is much more ambitious than that, however. It morphs from a carny story to a story of mind reading and fortune telling to a detailed story of a fake spiritualist, with love triangles, dogs, and a hobo jungle thrown in for good measure. It is like reading at least three novels rolled into one. The thread linking it all together is Stanton Carlisle, a fair haired 21 year old with an Oedipus complex who, as the story begins, has just joined a traveling carnival as a sleight of hand artist as well as a talker and helper for a few other acts. Through a series of recollections, however, Gresham fills us in on Carlisle's childhood up until he left home. As a result, the story begins to take on the tragic aspect Gresham no doubt intended. But Carlisle is only occasionally a sympathetic character, and he becomes more and more depraved (perhaps base is a better word) as the story goes on.

    I won’t spoil the details for you, just say that about when you think Gresham has gone along long enough, he comes up with a few paragraphs or an entire chapter that makes you nod your head in admiration. In addition, there are several other memorable characters in the book, mostly friends and acquaintances from his carnival days that turn up throughout the story. The novel is very gritty in its descriptions of people and the things people do with and to other people. While the world it depicts doesn’t seem like something we could step out of our front door into, it is frighteningly real, nevertheless. The book may be a bit of a period piece—but the aspirations and emotions it depicts are completely modern.

    So, the bottom line is that I’m very happy the Library of America decided to print this book, even if I think calling it noir is a bit misleading. Just find it – in whatever edition – and read it. It deserves all the exposure it can get.

    I Married a Dead Man ** 1/2 (repeated from my review of a separate copy of this book)
    This book has a clever premise, which I won't give away, but suffers throughout - particularly at the beginning and end - from an overly melodramatic narrative that definitely dulls the fascination of seeing how the sort-of-heroine deals with her unique situation and the threats to the future of her and her child. It's like reading some sort of out of control romance novel. Woolrich could, and did, write a lot better than this in other books and stories. In the end, the resolution depends on the weakness of character of the two main characters to perpetuate the whole melodramatic business. Or maybe Woolrich couldn't think up a better ending. This is based on an earlier short story, which had a different ending. ( )
    1 vote datrappert | Jan 28, 2010 |
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    » Add other authors

    Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
    Polito, RobertEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Anderson, EdwardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Cain, James M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Fearing, KennethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Gresham, William LindsayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
    McCoy, HoraceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
    Woolrich, CornellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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    Book description
    The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain);
    They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Horace McCoy);
    Thieves Like Us (Edward Anderson);
    The Big Clock (Kenneth Fearing);
    Nightmare Alley (William Lindsay Gresham);
    I Married a Dead Man (Cornell Woolrich)
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    "This adventurous volume, with its companion devoted to the 1950s, presents a rich vein of modern American writing too often neglected in mainstream literary histories. Evolving out of the terse and violent hardboiled style of the pulp magazines, noir fiction expanded over the decades into a varied and innovative body of writing. Tapping deep roots in the American literary imagination, the novels in this volume explore themes of crime, guilt, deception, obsessive passion, murder, and the disintegrating psyche. With visionary and often subversive force they create a dark and violent mythology out of the most commonplace elements of modern life. The raw power of their vernacular style has profoundly influenced contemporary American culture and writing. Far from formulaic, they are ambitious works which bend the rules of genre fiction to their often experimental purposes"--Jacket.… (more)

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