Thursday, 26 May 2011
Books I Love: Crime Noir
“Do you ever notice you talk a lot, but never get to the point?” – Karen DiCilia, Gold Coast
Language spoken in crime noir is different than other novels. They have a rough cadence when they speak, rarely from the good district of town, and fewer still have had the opportunity to better themselves in any way possible rather than by the end of the gun. Crime noir is an alternative to detective/murder mysteries. Crime noir keeps to its roots as a base level of humanity, edgier in its style because the good guy has to fight to win and may never do so.
The way Elmore Leonard’s characters speak is remarkable because it keeps the education level at where you would guess a criminal would be at. That doesn’t mean all criminals are idiots, but few talk with the proper grammar that an academic would care for. Jim Thompson does everyone writing crime noir one better by making his characters depraved to the point of no return. He ended up taking a wide turn right when everyone else decided to go left.
In the 1950s, Thompson wrote several crime noir books, some in less than a month with little rewriting. That appeared to add to his style. His characters spoke in forms, cut off half way through sentences, and never with the proper inflection to their tone. Deputy Lou Ford who narrates The Killer Inside Me (1952) speaks in clichés, and talks of his addiction to “the sickness.” These types of characters showcase a base that society is typically unwilling to acknowledge but must admit is out there. Thompson continued this streak of character and language on in the 1957 book The Getaway. It is where no one person in the story is innocent, nor incapable of doing harm to another person for the benefit of greed.
When I select a book to read, I look for the honesty of the writer. Thompson and Leonard possess that honesty that their characters are as real as it gets. Most are mill workers or people without means. Those are the people I know. And few, if any of them, speak proper grammar. Mostly, they speak as themselves, which is the best type of writing, and character. Hopefully, Karen DiCilia would be relieved that I got to the point in this article.
Troy Kirby is a writer in the Pacific Northwest, author of the crime novel “Crunk” and horror novella “The Deity.” His blog www.troykirby.com touches on random topics, from writing, to the world in general.