An Insiders Guide to Neo-Noir Detective Fiction

cold comfort neo-noir novel

Neo-Noir Defined

Noir is a popular genre of the post-World War II era that examined the corrupt immorality within America's hallowed institutions.

While noir's dark tone was amplified by Hollywood films, the genre's dark themes of moral corruption were first explored in popular literature in the early twentieth century.

Noir fiction is typically linked with hard-boiled detective novels, where the heroes are flawed, morally corrupt, or at least immune to good social graces, and the characters are a reflection of the unscrupulous society that produces them.

Noir fiction enjoyed a resurgence from the 1970s through the 1990s, both in films and popular literature. But in literature especially, authors like Robert B. Parker, with his Spenser novels began to pull noir from the traditional settings in the 1940s and 1950s into more modern times. Neo-noir was born.

Noir and neo-noir are the same except that the latter has updated themes, content, and style. As an example, Robert B. Parker wrote the Spenser novels in the first person, employing the same blunt, masculine prose style that was used by noir greats like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in their day.

Dashiell Hammett, the creator of the iconic private eye Sam Spade and author of The Maltese Falcon, is credited with practically inventing the American detective novel and the hard-boiled detective himself. Raymond Chandler built on those beginnings with his character Phillip Marlowe, along with other authors of this period. Robert B. Parker then took up the torch in 1973 when he created his classic private detective character Spenser and published the first of the Spenser novels, The Godwulf Manuscript.

The Future of Neo-Noir

Spenser was a conscious throwback to hard-boiled detectives of the past like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, so much so that in essence Spenser is what Marlowe might have been in a more modern world (had he been living in Boston rather than Los Angeles).

My private detective character, Ben Malone, too is a conscious throwback to hard-boiled detectives of the past. Parker emulated Chandler's Marlowe, and without excuse or apology, I've emulated  Parker's character, Spenser. I'm in good company on that account. As a best-selling author, Harlan Coben revealed in a 2007 interview with "The Atlantic Monthly," “I read Parker’s Spenser series in college. When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.”

The Spenser series continues under the capable authorship of Ace Atkins. But, like their human counterparts, novel characters have a limited lifespan. The truth be told, Spenser is already a bit long in the tooth these days and isn't getting any younger. Unless Ace Atkins chooses at some point to follow the example of authors like Lee Child who sometimes flashes back to the earlier days of his own iconic character Jack Reacher to lengthen the character's lifespan, Spenser will simply become too old to continue as a credible private detective.

As much as I and thousands of other fans love the Spenser character, none of us I'm sure wish to reach a point where Spenser suffers the ignominy of hobbling forth from a Boston rest home to tackle a new case.

For that reason, I and other authors who love the neo-noir genre feel a responsibility to continue building on Robert B. Parker's legacy by creating new private eye characters and continuing to write in the best traditions of neo-noir.

Since the passing of Robert B. Parker in 2010, no other author has really stepped up to fill his shoes. Some might feel that Michael Connelly seems the heir apparent with his character Harry Bosch. Like Malone, Bosch has left the LAPD where he began, and in the later novels in the series, Bosch becomes a private detective.

Certainly, there are similarities between Bosch and the classic noir detectives of the past.  Yet in my own opinion at least, as great as the books are, I regard Connelly's novels much more akin to Joseph Wambaugh-esque police procedurals than neo-noir detective mystery novels in the tradition of Robert B. Parker.


Malone Returns in Cold Comfort

If you haven't yet, I hope that you will check out Cold Comfort, the third installment of the Malone Mystery Novels series. There is, of course, more murder, but I think you will find some new twists and you will meet Malone's new sidekick, T. J. O’Sullivan, a female character who hails originally from New Zealand. T. J. will also figure prominently in the next novel, Foregone Conclusion, which is set to be published next year. Afterward, you can expect T. J. to appear in her own series sometime in 2018.

Cold Comfort is available both in print and electronic versions. You can find the electronic version at your own favorite eBook retailer by clicking on this universal book link.

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