Tuesday, May 30, 2006

English noir: an annotated list, part 1

I focus mostly on noir fiction in translation, meaning I don't deal with English-language novels very often, but I posted a few comments on Scottish noir the other day and got some good feedback and suggestions. So I thought I'd start a list, with some comments, of the English crime fiction that I've liked. In no particular order:
Bayswater Bodycount, by Graeme Gordon: I really liked this one, about a street war between Palestinian and Jewish gangs in London, with a bunch of violent little-people thrown into the mix. I keep waiting for the 2nd novel from Gordon, billed as Barking Mad, but I guess after a number of years of being promised, this one is never going to happen.
Bayswater Bodycount was published by Serpent's Tail's Mask Noir series, edited by John Williams, and actually anything published by them (British, international, or U.S.) is good--avoiding the middle-class-cliches of genre mystery fiction in particular.
Ken Bruen--multiple titles. I liked the early novels (the Mas Noir ones) and the White trilogy, but Bruen is a real text machine, the books just keep coming. I think the volume of his writing is outpacing his ideas, because, to me, the newer books, particularly the ones set in Ireland, are affected and repetitious. Although they've gotten rave reviews here in the U.S., so who knows, maybe I'm wrong. He certainly has a distinctive voice (albeit sometimes seeming a bit too much like J.P. Donleavy).
John Milne: I think he only has three, maybe four titles, but they're all good--another down-and-out detective-hero, but done very skilfully.

Mike Ripley: I liked the first Angel novel I read, but after a while, they get a little tiresome. They're of very even quality, it's just that I got a little tired of the narrator's voice.
Lauren Henderson: I like her crime fiction, although her work was veering toward romance even before she turned to the "chick-lit" genre in her more recent work. Her first three or four crime novels had great titles (Dead White Female, etc) and a smart-ass narrator that was very likable.
Liz Evans: Not my cup of tea. Too much a series franchise, not enough substance. Same for Emer Gillespie. Same for Stella Duffy, though she's better than the other 2. I don't know why I like Lauren Henderson and not these other "Tart Noir," to use the phrase she and Duffy cooked up, it's just that she seems to have a more original voice, less of a genre series shtick. Or is it a "guy thing" that's keeping me from seeing the greatness of these female crime writers? But I think Denise Mina is a lot more original, does that do anything to keep me from being a sexist pig?
John Harvey: All of the books are well written, but I can understand why he retired the Resnick series--how far down the melancholy-unto-despair road could the character go before he either committed suicide or dragged himself out of his rut and got on with his life. But the 2 Resnick novels dealing with the Polish thief were very good, on all levels.
John B. Spencer: I've tried a couple of his novels, but I can't get into them--something cliched or stilted about them. Same for Paul Charles.
Carol Anne Davis's books are certainly dark, but they're really character studies, and the characters don't have much to recommend them.
Maxim Jakubowski: I know he's done good anthologies, but his noir fiction is just like his porn--very artificial.
Russell James: I've liked the ones I've been able to get my hands on--very cinematic, as I remember.

Charles Higson: he's gone on to do the "official" James-Bond-as-a-kid novels, which is a shame, because all of his earlier books are readable and one is a downright howlingly funny black comedy--Getting Rid of Mister Kitchen. Go read that book, and the others, too, if you have time--but that one is a wonder.
Bill James: I think I've dealt with him elsewhere--very strange and funny, but repetitive if you try to read a lot of them in a short time.
Julian Rathbone: Of course.
More later--and please leave notes with your suggested readings and additions to this list.


Anonymous said...

David Peace. Any of his first four. Martyn Waites. Cathi Unsworth. Dreda Say Mitchell. Charlie Williams. Carol Anne Davis is Scottish, btw.

Anonymous said...

You've got to read Derek Raymond's three novels about the Dept. of Unexplained Deaths. An amazing voice.

Anonymous said...

Seconded on Derek Raymond - Serpent's Tail are reissuing the Factory series beginning this autumn with one of my absolute favourites: He Died With His Eyes Open. Also, you might find it a search and a half, but you might want to check out Ted Lewis, in particular Jack's Return Home and GBH

jutoutkast said...

Ken bruen has done a wicked trilogy with Jason Starr published through hard case crime.just read American author matthew stokoes high life, fucking hell !!!!!!