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    #26
    Recently read Dorothy B. Hughes's The Scarlet Imperial and Patricia Highsmith's Deep Water back to back. Highsmith, at least in my book, isn't a noir writer by any stretch but certainly underlines who is. Her's is the more satisying effort here, in fact Ripliad aside, it's probably the most compelling Highsmith I've read. It's a very simple and even unoriginal tale of two married people who've grown to detest each other. The fact that our sympathies are almost entirely with one of them, but we understand the other equally well is testament to Highsmith's skill. Another factor is the small New England town they live in. The protaganists play on the support of each of their friends and neighbours in their poisonous battle, and as we watch them take sides a vicious, and ultimately brutal story, unfolds.

    Highsmith is above all a realistic writer. Her characters are flesh, blood bone and brain believable. Hughes is quite the opposite, a romantic (as all noir is) who very much disliked Highsmith's approach. Certainly she was a generation older, but her antipathy is reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë's toward Jane Austen: "Miss Austen merely writes about what is real. I write what is true."

    The Scarlet Imperial is a classic McGuffin, an egg with no real import that's good in parts. It's about one woman and three men. Two of the men are prospective love interests, the third is a father figure/mentor. All are dodgy, all are charismatic, who should Eliza believe? Who should she choose? Who the hell is she anyway? Only the last question is of interest, to me any rate. Hughes witholds as much information as she can get away with, for as long as possible about Eliza. We don't know whether she's implicit in the loss of The Scarlet Imperial, or being used by one or more of the men to get it, or even if that's her real name. By releasing information piecemeal and sporadically, at unlikely intervals, Hughes kept my attention glued to the page for well over half the book. After her identity is revealed however, my interest fell off a cliff. Still and all it is a pretty darned good half a book.

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      #27
      I was meaning to come back to this thread. I finally got round to reading Dorothy B Hughes' Dread Journey, mentioned above, and followed it with Vanish In An Instant by Margaret Millar.

      The Hughes was entertaining but no greater than the sum of its parts. As those parts are luxury train travel and murderous Hollywood folk, it has a lot of appeal on the surface. The crime itself comes late on but the build up is slightly undermined by a surfeit of lurid internal assessment of the characters, who are well drawn but stock types on the whole; cynical war correspondent, gold digging starlet, unspoiled ingenue, etc.

      Vanish In An Instant is a much better book, without sacrificing any genre thrills. The story is about a spoilt and troubled woman whom overwhelming circumstantial evidence points towards having murdered her lover. Millar's characters convince psychologically and her style is cool and precise (drawing parallels with that of her old man, Kenneth). The setting, a lightly fictionalised Ann Arbor and surroundings, is well realised. There's an unnecessary romance between the detective figure, here a lawyer, and another young, unworldly woman but it doesn't jar enough to spoil the overall effect. That was the first of hers that I've read and definitely won't be the last.

      In full escapist flight, given the dire state of world affairs, I've gone straight into Sideswipe, the third Hoke Moseley novel. I love Charles Willeford's late style. He manages to be funny and discursive without the self-admiring garrulousness that can make, say, Ed McBain hard going at times.
      Last edited by Benjm; 05-08-2019, 22:08.

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        #28
        This is going to Spain with me at the end of the month.



        Thank you to Amor who pointed me towards it by mentioning one of Sarah Weinman's other curations. Highsmith, Hughes and Millar are all present and correct, although the introduction places Highsmith's dip into domestic suspense as an outlier in her body of work.

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          #29
          Looks very good. I must read more Millar. Beast in View (In the Weinman compilation mentioned upthread) is gripping. I too read Dread Journey and agree with your assessment. I did like the confinement approach, but the characters are indeed tedious. Having now read four of her books I'd say that's the biggest flaw in her writing. She tends to create stereotypes that generate little interest in and of themselves. The three men in The Scarlet Imperial are utter clichés, the dangerously dark Irishman, with piercing blue eyes; the sensitive businessman with wavy fair hair; and the dashing ex-diplomat with an English accent. Throw in a wealthy Harlowesque blonde, who's entire function is to sigh with boredom every now and then, and you see what I mean. I guess they worked for her audience at the time, but they do detract from the many excellent qualities of her writing.

          Anyway I'll give Vanish in an Instant a try. Thanks for the tip.

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            #30
            I've ordered Beast in View to add to the holiday list, sold by the AdeC stamp of approval.

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              #31
              Originally posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
              Recently read Dorothy B. Hughes's The Scarlet Imperial and Patricia Highsmith's Deep Water back to back. Highsmith, at least in my book, isn't a noir writer by any stretch but certainly underlines who is. Her's is the more satisying effort here, in fact Ripliad aside, it's probably the most compelling Highsmith I've read. It's a very simple and even unoriginal tale of two married people who've grown to detest each other. The fact that our sympathies are almost entirely with one of them, but we understand the other equally well is testament to Highsmith's skill. Another factor is the small New England town they live in. The protaganists play on the support of each of their friends and neighbours in their poisonous battle, and as we watch them take sides a vicious, and ultimately brutal story, unfolds.
              I've read Deep Water and that's a good summary. It's masterful. Read a few of her books and expect to get through her catalogue in the next few years, or at least as much as I can find. Might leave the Ripley books till last, though. Looking forward to reading Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories... if I ever finish American Psycho, which has become arduous.

              Someone mentioned Chandler and his depictions of LA. I've read several of his works and enjoy his style but there are always incidents lacking in sufficient description for me to understand exactly what happened. Been a while so can't isolate specifics but I'm generally left slightly empty at the end of his stories.

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                #32
                Originally posted by MonkeyHarris View Post
                Someone mentioned Chandler and his depictions of LA. I've read several of his works and enjoy his style but there are always incidents lacking in sufficient description for me to understand exactly what happened. Been a while so can't isolate specifics but I'm generally left slightly empty at the end of his stories.
                That's a fair point. Plotting wasn't Chandler's priority; the narratives in his novels often have loose ends. He told a story himself of being asked by the film makers to clarify who killed one of the characters in The Big Sleep and not knowing the answer. This may have been exaggerated for comic effect but shows that he was relaxed about the issue in a way that an author who primarily prided themselves on their puzzle making, Agatha Christie for example, might not be.

                He was in the habit of recycling and mashing up old storylines from his magazine writing days, with slightly messy and sprawling results. His themes of corruption and symbiosis between the wealthy, criminal and governing classes are supported by the confusion but reaching a neat resolution doesn't especially matter. The Long Goodbye, his last fully realised novel, was written when he had become thoroughly bored with the requirements of the genre. This is most apparent in the time frame. Whereas hard boiled stories usually take place at breakneck speed over a day or two, in The Long Goodbye weeks and months pass without anything much happening.

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                  #33
                  Thanks for that, Benjm. I read both of those some time ago and from what I can recall that sounds familiar. Many authors repurpose previous work, I know Irvine Welsh and Haruki Murakami have, and I've also used episodes or scenes from other projects (mostly unfinished) for new ones, though I've course I'm unpublished and nobody. Seems a natural thing to do for artists generally. Murakami has spoken of rewriting and taking different directions in already published stories. Reminds me of that Wes Anderson quote about seeing the final version of Bottle Rocket and the stark realisation that it was out there now and he could no longer edit or it. Probably why he's meticulous about every detail these days.

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                    #34
                    Originally posted by MonkeyHarris View Post
                    Murakami has spoken of rewriting and taking different directions in already published stories.
                    Interesting you mention that. In the current Granta there's a story by Murakami in which he takes an article/story he wrote for a student newspaper back in the day, Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova, partially reprints it, then riffs of it. It's rather good.

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                      #35
                      Wonder if Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova will be added to a collection. I've not read Granta in years and though the digital subscription sounds reasonable, I'd rather have a hard copy. Will have a look over the weekend. Sure I'll read it one way or another. Colourless Tsukuru was alright but I haven't rated any of Murakami's novels since Sputnik Sweetheart, though I'll be getting Killing Commendatore when it's out in paperback. I appreciate that he's experimented with form and tried to push boundaries but I don't think it's always worked. Perhaps I just like the Trilogy of the Rat and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle too much.

                      When I've got through my current stash of books to read I'll scan this thread for Hard-Boiled recommendations and pick up what I can find. Heard good things about James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. Will add that to the list.

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                        #36
                        Ah Crumley! Probablyhad the most noir life of any writer:

                        According to Thomas McGuane "He did cocaine six days a week. Ate five times a day. Drank a bottle of whiskey every day." He had five wives, five children, eight grand-children and two great grand-children. He also wrote at least a couple of damn fine novels, The Last Good Kiss and The Wrong Case are both excellent. Can't vouch for others but must do more research, because when he was good he was very, very, good.

                        Originally posted by MonkeyHarris View Post
                        I'll be getting Killing Commendatore when it's out in paperback.
                        Someone loaned me a hardback copy, so I'll give it a go and report back.

                        I was given a Granta subscription as a present, and I've found it surprisingly pleasurable (I'm not big on short fiction usually.) They did a fortieth anniversary issue in the Spring which was stuffed with good things. I've a bit more time these days to indulge myself, and The Believer has gone downhill since
                        McSweeney's sold it so Granta fills the space.

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                          #37
                          Crumley was also a professor of English Literature, not an uncommon day job among noir authors.

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                            #38
                            I'm guessing that readers of noir also dig film noir. If you are in the US:
                            http://noiralley.tcm.com/schedule

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                              #39
                              Oh yeah. Big fan of Eddie Muller. I really like his backgrounders, lots more info than you generally get from TCM's hosts. They take a break in August, so I'm looking forward to The Big Clock early next month, though I've seen it before it stands a second viewing.

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