Monday, June 4, 2018
Noir: A Novel
By Christopher Moore
William Morrow 2018
352 pages Noir/Humor
Oh my goodness! What a hoot! Noir: A Novel is a send-up of every pretentious noir or hard-boiled detective novel ever written.
As many of you know, I have been studying noir over the past several months, ever since I read Deadbomb Bingo Ray last year. Then Akashic Books sent me three volumes of noir and neo-noir short stories which I reviewed. Which led me to try to discover the difference between noir and neo-noir. Then, just recently, a literature professor told me that our local author Bonnie Jo Campbell’s books could be classified as “country noir.” Now that was a term I had never heard of and will be another addition to my reading agenda.
Well, anyway, let’s talk about Noir: A Novel, the humorist Christopher Moore’s newest effort. Frankly, I had never read anything by Christopher Moore, but if all his books are as funny as this one, I have got to tune in to him more frequently.
The book takes place in 1947 as the US is getting resettled following the war. The protagonist—the main protagonist, at least—is Sam, a bartender at a grimy San Francisco saloon. The other protagonist is a snake! We meet both in the first chapter when Sam arrives at work and finds his boss dead on the floor, killed by snake venom. The bar owner, Sal, was killed by the snake that Sam had delivered to the bar because he has plans to go into the “snake whiz” business. Apparently many Asian men are eager to buy snake pee as a cure for erectile dysfunction.
Of course there is a girl; in this case a gorgeous dime store waitress named Stilton. Sam calls her “Cheese.” He falls instantly in love with her after she walks into the bar one night. Sam says that Stilton has “the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes.” Much of the plot hinges on Sam saving Cheese from a gathering of powerful, rich men that she has been hired to entertain at a camp in the woods outside the city.
Oh, and I almost forgot, there is an alien—a little green moon man. And a group of men—maybe government agents—out to find the little guy. At this point, any resemblance to any classical noir goes completely off the rails, and the reader just can’t stop laughing. One reviewer says: “In keeping with the noir style, there are many divergent plotlines that ultimately have to be tied up, and Moore’s solution—no spoilers here—is unique to the genre.
The riffs on “noir speak” are incredibly funny. I found myself underlining something silly on nearly every page. For example:
· “The fog lay spread across the city like a drowned whore—damp, cold, smelling of salt and diesel—a sea-sodden streetwalker who’d just bonked a tugboat.”
· “If you’re planning a caper, that’s the flatfoot you want flapping after you. That mug couldn’t catch a cough in a tire fire.”
· “he looked like a black-and-white character that had stumbled into a Technicolor movie.”
Well, I could go on and on. Those three quotes were on just 3 pages. Dashell Hammet and Raymond Chandler are probably turning over in their graves. A couple of the major reviewers, including Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly didn’t particularly like Noir: A Novel, but most likely they weren’t in the proper frame of mind. I read it over the Memorial Day weekend when the temperatures were in the 90s and my brain was as frizzled as the garden I had just planted. It all made perfect sense to me.
Christopher Moore’s website.