The Best American Noir of the Century

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Overview

“Well worth its impressive weight in gold, it would be a crime not to have this seminal masterpiece in your collection.”—New York Journal of Books

In his introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, “Noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and ...

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Overview

“Well worth its impressive weight in gold, it would be a crime not to have this seminal masterpiece in your collection.”—New York Journal of Books

In his introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, “Noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad.” Offering the best examples of literary sure things gone bad, this collection ensures that nowhere else can readers find a darker, more thorough distillation of American noir fiction.
      James Ellroy and Otto Penzler mined writings of the past century to find this treasure trove of thirty-nine stories. From noir’s twenties-era infancy come gems like James M. Cain’s “Pastorale,” and its postwar heyday boasts giants like Mickey Spillane and Evan Hunter. Packing an undeniable punch, diverse contemporary incarnations include Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, and William Gay, with many page-turners appearing from the past decade.

“Delightfully devilish . . . A strange trek through the years that includes stories from household names in the hard-boiled genre to lesser-known authors who nonetheless can hold their own with the legends.”—Associated Press

James Ellroy is the author of the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy—American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s a Rover—and the L.A. Quartet novels, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz. His most recent book is The Hillicker Curse, a memoir.

Otto Penzler is the founder of the Mysterious Bookshop and Mysterious Press, has won two Edgar Allan Poe Awards (most recently for The Lineup), and is series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Surprisingly, 20 of the 39 well-chosen stories published between 1923 and 2007 in this impressive crime anthology date to the last two decades, which may sound counterintuitive to casual readers who associate noir with the 1940s and 1950s. All the contributors excel at showing the omnipresence of the dark side of humanity in many different times and locales. In addition to names synonymous with noir such as Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson, Ellroy (Blood's a Rover) and Penzler (The Best American Mystery Stories) offer depressing fare from writers better known for other work, like David Morrell, whose first published story, "The Dripping," about the disappearance of a man's wife and daughter, is one of the book's best. Lesser-known authors also distinguish themselves, like Christopher Coake, whose reverse chronology in "All Through the House" serves to heighten the suspense rather than dissipate it. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“Surprisingly, 20 of the 39 well-chosen stories published between 1923 and 2007 in this impressive crime anthology date to the last two decades, which may sound counterintuitive to casual readers who associate noir with the 1940s and 1950s. All the contributors excel at showing the omnipresence of the dark side of humanity in many different times and locales. In addition to names synonymous with noir such as Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson, Ellroy (Blood’s a Rover) and Penzler (The Best American Mystery Stories) offer depressing fare from writers better known for other work, like David Morrell, whose first published story, “The Dripping,” about the disappearance of a man’s wife and daughter, is one of the book’s best. Lesser-known authors also distinguish themselves, like Christopher Coake, whose reverse chronology in ‘All Through the House” serves to heighten the suspense rather than dissipate it. (Oct.)”
—-Publishers Weekly, STARRED

"This generous, flavorful collection of noir-tinged tales comes cherry-picked by Ellroy and Penzler, who exclude Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as authors of "private detective stories." Most of the 39 tales here appeared originally in magazines, not only in pulps like Manhunt and Black Mask but also in the more literary American Mercury, Southern Review, and Omni. Each story is introduced with a brief author biography. These pay respect to the careers of these professional scribblers, who managed (with the aid of multiple pseudonyms) to keep body and soul together writing and writing still more. The collection opens with Tod Robbins's "Spurs" (1923), a beauty-and-the-beast tale that questions which is which; it was the basis for Tod Browning's chilling movie Freaks. The collection closes with Lorenzo Carcaterra's "Missing the Morning Bus" (2007), in which, amid half-emptied bowls of peanuts and salsa, Death takes a seat at a weekly card game. In between come memorable but lesser-known tales by, among others, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, and Bradford Morrow. Verdict Rooting around in the rich soil amassed by almost a century of noir, Ellroy and Penzler unearth dark, pungent, and flavorful truffles that will satisfy fans and may well whet the appetites of new readers." —Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

A star-studded memorial, thick as cement overshoes, to an oddly shaped century.

It's instructive to compare Ellroy and Penzler's behemoth to Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins's A Century of Noir(2002). Though it includes more stories (39 to 32), even fewer are by women (three to five). Only one story is duplicated—Gil Brewer's bleak anecdote "The Gesture"—and there are only seven additional authors: Spillane, James M. Cain, Dorothy B. Hughes, David Goodis, Evan Hunter, Ed Gorman and Lawrence Block. The oddest feature of the present collection, though, is the serious overrepresentation of recent decades. There are two stories from the 1920s, one—Steve Fisher's workmanlike, forgettable "You'll Always Remember Me"—from the '30s, three from the '40s, six from the '50s, two from the '60s, two from the '70s, three from the '80s—and then ten from the '90s and ten more from 2000-2007. Are we living through a golden age of noir? No, but a golden age of Penzler anthologies, since no fewer than 16 of the stories here, nearly all the volume's second half, were first published or reprinted in earlier collections he edited or published. Special treats include Tod Robbins's "Spurs" (the basis of the film Freaks), Cornell Woolrich's final story, "For the Rest of Her Life," F.X. Toole's ringside saga "Midnight Emissions," and Scott Wolven's savage "Controlled Burn," as well as the equally dark tales by Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Thomas H. Cook and perennial Penzler favorite Joyce Carol Oates.

Most of the others are worth your time as well—unless, or maybe even if, you've already caught them in previous Penzlers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547577449
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/4/2011
  • Series: Best American Series
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 636,019
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.78 (d)

Meet the Author

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international bestsellers. His most recent book is Blood’s a Rover .

Otto Penzler is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstores solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 20, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Very good collection of stories.

    I enjoyed the variety of stories and authors.

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  • Posted September 15, 2012

    Excellent stories at the end of the collection. Some of the earl

    Excellent stories at the end of the collection. Some of the earlier stories are tedious.

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    Posted October 3, 2012

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    Posted October 30, 2011

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    Posted June 11, 2012

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