Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40sby Robert Polito, James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, Kenneth Fearing
An outstanding volume compiling some of the noir classics in their entirety, including The Postman Always Rings Twice, They Shoot Horses Don't They, The Big Clock, and others.
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I bought this book because Kenneth Fearing's "The Big Clock" is included. (As a separate volume that book costs 1/2 the price of the list price of this book; the B&N price is much lower than list.) As it happened, I read all of the novels one after another, in about 2 weeks. That's how much I enjoyed them. It turns out that I found "The Big Clock" to be mildly disappointing -- the writing style & structure are 1st class, but there was an annoying hole in the plot. He was a poet, and I want to read some of his poetry. The other novels are exceptional. The story in "Thieves Like Us" tells the story of bank robbers in the South & Southwest much like the the Barrows, John Dillinger, or Bonnie & Clyde -- except that it tells the story of ordinary bank robbers who were not celebrities, on a day-to-day basis (it addresses issues of buying cars, having enough food around, and renting safehouses in tiny towns down South). I imagine that it was much like this for real bank robbers. Perhaps the best of the novels are "The Postman Always Rings Twice," which I think helped set the basis for plots of the noir films and novels that followed, and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" You may know the films of these novels. "Postman" involves adultery and murder; "Horses" is a very grueling account of 1930s dance marathons in LA, and thus not a typical crime novel. The other novels are fine too: "Nightmare Alley" is the story of the rise & fall of a carnival hustler turned fortune-teller turned spiritualist minister. "I Married a Dead Man" is an intricate story of a poor young woman who takes advantage of a chance to join a wonderful, loving, and wealthy family through deception -- and the loss of her happiness. I've just mentioned plots -- all of the novels have their own styles and manners of narration. "Nightmare Alley" has complex symbols based on the Tarot cards that appear at the beginning of each chapter, for example, while in "Horses" you know how the story will end on the first page -- and the rest of the novel says how we got there. Particularly interesting to me was the language characters used, especially general slang and the special slang of carnies & low-down criminals. Some of the realia is interesting too -- I never knew that it was common to find a JC Penny's store in a small town in the Southwest in the 1930s! All in all I say -- read this book if you like hardboiled crime or noir novels. It's a bargain! And it comes in the excellent Library of America binding with their very readable pages. I know that if treated right, the book would last long enough for my great-grandchildren to read.