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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s by…

Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s

by Robert Polito (Editor)

Other authors: David Goodis (Contributor), Patricia Highsmith (Contributor), Chester Himes (Contributor), Jim Thompson (Contributor), Charles Willeford (Contributor)

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» See also 10 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
"The killer inside me" by Jim Thompson
"The talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith
"Pick-up" by Charles Willeford
"Down there" by David Goodis
"The real cool killers"by Chester Himes
  IICANA | Apr 18, 2016 |
The second volume of the Library of America's Crime Novels series is more consistent than the first, although nothing quite reaches the heights of the first volume's "The Shoot Horses, Don't They", "Thieves Like Us", or "Nightmare Alley".

Jim Thompson - The Killer Inside Me - **** (4 stars)
Like most of Thompson's books, this one is a real downer, but watching this bad sheriff's deputy as he goes his merry way is certainly compelling. Even his indisputable intelligence can't humanize him in light of the cold-blooded way he treats others. Certainly one of the essential noir experiences, but not an altogether pleasant one.

Patricia Highsmith - The Talented Mr. Ripley ****1/2 (4 1/2 stars)
Highsmith's novel is far superior to the Matt Damon film, which opened things up a little too much and suffered from some bad or mis-casting. Ripley is the most fascinating of characters as he assumes the character of a man he has killed--and will stop at nothing to preserve the fiction. Highsmith succeeds in making you sympathetic to him, however, since those he victimizes aren't that likeable. This was the first in a series of books.

Charles Willeford - Pick Up - **** (4 stars)
Pick-Up is as dark and depressing as anything you will read. The novel shows that one loser + another loser doesn't add up to anything. As usual in Willeford, there are lots of educational things here, such as how to add a little new coffee to old grounds so you can reuse them. Like a lot of Willeford's early work, the book just sort of rambles along on its own path. It isn't a crime story at all, but as a piece of noir, it succeeds brilliantly. If you like David Goodis, you should love this one.

David Goodis - Down There **** (4 stars)
There are no joyrides when reading Goodis. But there are a lot of pleasures to be had in the little parts of his writing. Everything is intensely dark and intensely real even if you don't fully understand the characters' motivation or how they act, and even if you have never walked alone on the dark streets of Philadelphia. The story concerns a pianist, formerly a sensation on the classical stage (as befits a graduate of the Curtis Institute, America's premier music school), who has now retreated to playing jazz in an out-of-the-way bar for $30 a week. As the story unfolds, we are shown both the personal tragedy and the family he has run away from. But there is no escaping either as Goodis draws us into this bleak tale. The pianist's brother is on the run from the mob and comes to the bar looking for help. Suddenly the passive pianist is now engaged in something he never wanted--and his animal side is coming back info focus, as it did after his personal tragedy.

I've written around things here to avoid providing any spoilers. This is not a happy book. It is filled with scenes of pain and brutality, but throughout, there are rays of light as human beings act human and in the midst of this dark world, they reach out to help the pianist in small ways. This is too dark to be escapist fiction, but I suspect you won't be able to put it down until the end, or to soon forget it.

Chester Himes - The Real Cool Killers **** (4 stars)
A white man is murdered on a Harlem street and the NYPD arrives in force to solve the crime. Most notably, two black detectives, Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, are first on the scene. To say that chaos ensues would be an understatement. The narrative shifts between the police and the youth gang, The Real Cool Moslems, that has spirited away the suspected murderer. Though the subject matter is very sordid, this isn't as downbeat a book as most of Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, or David Goodis. But even the two detectives don't come across as totally sympathetic. The violence that runs through Harlem in this book runs through their veins too. As the novel twists its way to its (perhaps) surprising conclusion, we see prostitutes, madams, pimps, juvenile delinquents, and lots of people who choose to look the other way when a crime occurs. Nevertheless, there is also a vein of humor, particularly the bumbling antics of some of the white policemen, who are shown to be out of their element in the depths of Harlem. Himes is a good storyteller, though the novel has a few strictly explicatory passages that seem a little out of place. I'll definitely check out his other novels in the Gravedigger/Coffin Ed series to see how these two manage to cope on their other cases. ( )
  datrappert | Jan 5, 2012 |
Thompson wrote, among other things, The Grifters and The Getaway. In this novel, Lou Ford is a deputy sheriff who seems like a good old boy to everyone in town. He's something of a lady killer, literally. While everyone thinks he's a swell guy, he is in fact a violent sociopath, beating women to death. He has a lot of the people fooled a lot of the time, but things don't exactly go his way. The writing is very sharp, and Thompson must have influenced Elmore Leonard as the styles are similar. However, this book has a decidedly creepy feeling to it, and you might be more repulsed than fascinated. I think Thompson is worth reading, but maybe try The Grifters. ( )
  susanamper | Jul 22, 2008 |
Real Cool Killers 143 pages. Part of the Library of America, Crime Noir 50's volume. Cotton Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones are detectives in Harlem. It is a good mystery with lots of violence and some good plot twists. It also is an up close tale of race relations on the street in Harlem in the 50's. I recommend it on both counts.
Down There
This is a story from the hard side of life starring Edward Webster Lynn. When we meet him he is the piano player in Harriet's Hut, a local bar. Ten tears ago he had been a concert pianist starring regularly at Carnegie Hall. The author writes in a dark noir style. He takes the reader into a world of poverty and danger where everybody lives on the edge.
Harriet's is presided over by the bouncer known as the Harleyville Hugger. He is an ex-wrestler who can still break a man in half with his bear hug. Clarice is an ex-carney acrobat who now makes her living doing horizontal acrobatics for three dollars per performance. Harriet, the owner, is a tough woman who lives with the Hugger.
The story opens with Turley Lynn, Eddie's brother, trying to get some help to get out of his latest trouble. He and his brother Clifton have stolen a couple of hundred thousand dollars from the mob and have two guys hot on their trail.
The story picks up the pace when Feather and Morris, the two guys chasing Turley, find Eddie and take him for the proverbial ride. From there on the story has plenty of action with constant reminders of what life down there is really like.
Eddie the piano player just glides through this world with a half smile on his face playing the constant stranger. The violence and emotional intensity of what happens to Eddie in "Down There" changes his life. As the reader I was right in the middle of the action. The author provides a myriad of details as he tells us the story of Eddie's life. I am left with vivid memories of the place and the people. I recommend this book highly and I intend to look for more titles by this author. ( )
  wildbill | May 3, 2008 |
Many of these stories have at least one movie made from them. I highly suggest watching the movies between reading the stories. It's even more fun with a friend! ( )
  Hoagy27 | Nov 27, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Polito, RobertEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goodis, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Highsmith, PatriciaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Himes, ChesterContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thompson, JimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Willeford, CharlesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This adventurous volume, with its companion devoted to the 1930s and 40s, 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.… (more)

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