The hard boiled hero of the detective/mystery story has become less an archetype and more a cliche over the years. Thankfully Christopher Moore has come along with his latest novel, Noir, from Harper Collins, to blow new life in the trope.
Sammy works the bar at Sal’s, named for its owner Sal Gabelli, (AKA Sally Gab) in post WW ll San Fransisco. While he’s got his secrets, everybody does it seems, his life is as uneventful as you’d expect working a bar whose regulars are a mix of serious drinkers and borderline criminals. That is until “She” walks into the bar one afternoon. She is Stilton, or as Sam calls her, The Cheese.
Normally the blond would walk into the PI’s office and ask him to help her with a delicate matter. However, this case is another kettle of fish, snakes and aliens. Saying anything more about the latter two would spoil too many of the books myriad plot lines, so we’ll leave it alone except to say they all end up being interconnected – well not the fish.
Sammy thinks he’s found the one in Stilton, as they’re getting along more than famously. Then all of a sudden she just ups and vanishes. Now Sammy’s not one to let things go, so he begins to try and track her down. With the help of a collection of San Francisco’s more interesting inhabitants he begins to unravel all the strange circumstances surrounding what happened to her.
Along the way we’re taken on a tour of the city circa the late 1940s. From Chinatown to the housing built for the Black workers hired to work in the shipyards during the war to secretive men’s clubs. Moore not only does an excellent job of recreating the era visually, he also brings to life the attitudes and prejudices of the times equally well.
This might make for some uncomfortable reading at times, but it also heightens the authenticity of the book. However, as Sam’s friends and helpers are members of the communities being discriminated against (Black, Chinese and Lesbian) the reader is left with no concerns about his or the author’s feelings on that topic.
I have to admit that on occasion I’ve found some of Moore’s work a little silly. In this case though he’s spot on. His characters are just the right side of over done. So while some might verge on the cartoonish, we soon realize there is more to them than initially meets the eye.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that the story, and the intricate plots which keep it spinning over, are examples of Moore’s imagination at its finest. While the absurdities come fast and furious at, they’re all part and parcel of the plot. No matter how far-fetched something might appear to be at first, within the context of the story everything fits together perfectly.
On top of it all Moore does a masterful job of utilizing the language of characters you’d normally associate with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. You can almost hear them talking out of the side of their mouths or see them tipping a fedora a little lower over their eyes with each sentence.
Noir is one of the more enjoyable and fun books you’ll read in a while. Not only has Moore taken a loving look at a familiar genre, he’s done so with style and wit. If you like your hard boiled detective stories with their tongues stuck firmly in their cheeks, you’ll love this book.