The Best American Noir of the Centuryby James Ellroy
In his introduction to the 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/i>
In his introduction to the 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, series editor of the annual The Best American Mystery Stories, mined one hundred years of writing—1910–2010—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 post-war 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 in the last decade.
-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
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.
Meet the Author
OTTO PENZLER is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstore solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies.
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I enjoyed the variety of stories and authors.
Excellent stories at the end of the collection. Some of the earlier stories are tedious.