Literary Escapism would like to welcome Kris Saknussemm, author of Zanesville and Private Midnight. Kris is here today to share with us some great noir novels and movies moments. Here’s a sneak peak at Kris’ new novel, Private Midnight:
Detective Birch Ritter is a man on the edge-of himself. His past is filled with secrets, shadows, guilt, and ghosts. Then a dubious police buddy he hasn’t seen in a year introduces him to a mysterious woman who says her business is shadows. What she knows about what lies between the darkness and the light inside men is more than Ritter may want to find out, and much more than he can resist learning. It’s said that to try to forget is to try to conceal, and concealing evidence is a crime. But maybe revelation is another kind of crime-against nature.
Be sure to stick around for the whole shebang….we’re giving away two copies of Private Midnight!
Noir’s Finest Hours (and Moments Too)
-Kris Saknussemm, author of Private Midnight
By the author of the mind-bending sci-fi satire Zanesville, Private Midnight is a demented noir-mystery set in a gritty underworld. It follows Detective Birch Ritter – a man on the edge – whose estranged police buddy lures him to a mysterious woman. A journey into the seedy, sexy underbelly of life, this is crime noir for a new generation, called “(an) addictive mix of noir and supernatural horror” in a Starred Review from PW.
Funny, dark, and curiously perverse, Private Midnight takes noir to the limits of the genre, into a world where even the sunlight is shadowy and deviance is the norm. Here Kris Saknussemm – the mind behind this madness – tells us about the best moments in noir heritage.
THE KILLER INSIDE ME – JIM THOMPSON
Every so often you encounter a work of art that not only hits you hard but actually makes you revise your thinking. Jim Thompson’s writing did that to me, especially the truly chilling The Killer Inside Me. One of the strangest people I’ve ever known turned me on to Thompson and was very careful about easing me into the style of the work before getting me to read Killer. Since then, I’ve always been surprised that Thompson’s writing isn’t more highly valued within American literature at large. Perhaps it’s simply too raw, too real, too unpretentious. The Killer Inside Me and POP 1280 open dark new doors in characterization and narrative intensity. But one scene somehow calls me back repeatedly, and I don’t know why. It comes near the end of Killer with the entrance of the larger-than-life country lawyer Billy Bob Walker. The exchange between this flamboyant attorney and Sheriff Lou Ford is one of those scenes that makes me want to be an actor and to play the Billy Bob part—and that’s the highest compliment you can pay a character and an author.
“A weed is a plant out of place. I find a hollyhock in my cornfield, and it’s a weed. I find it in my garden, and it’s a flower. You’re in my yard, Mr. Ford.”
NIGHTMARE ALLEY – WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM
This novel has it all: carnival geeks, freaks, hustlers and grifters, a mind reading act, hypnosis, psychoanalysis, murder, alcoholism, lust, insanity and an unrelenting air of sordidness and spiritual depravity. So many things I love! It’s as crooked as a faith healer and as seedy as a greasy old deck of tarot cards. And there’s a fabulous evil femme fatale. But out of all the stunning scenes, one in particular steals the show.
“How did you move that precision balance out at the factory?”
THE LITTLE SISTER – RAYMOND CHANDLER
Chandler is considered by many to be the poet of the genre—and for good reason. He wrote some beautiful sentences. “The self-operating elevator was carpeted in red plush. It had an elderly perfume in it, like three widows drinking tea.” This book isn’t as famous as The Big Sleep or The Lady in the Lake, but it remains one of my favorites.
“And the little bell rang, the one that rings far back at the end of the corridor, and is not loud, but you’d better hear it. No matter what other noises there are you’d better hear it.”
THE ERASERS (LES GOMMES) – ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET
With so many brilliant works by writers like Woolrich, Cain and Hammett, many people naturally assume noir is an essentially American genre—and it is. But not exclusively. Harold Pinter considered the influence of the genre on his work on a level with Kafka, which is stepping in some high cotton artistically. Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote several compelling works in what I would class as noir style, but it’s really the French who seemed to have embraced it most fully.
The Erasers is Robbe-Grillet’s first novel, which brought him to sudden prominence, and it’s one of the most curious books you’ll come across (published by Grove Press in America). Set in an unnamed Flemish city that feels like a canal-laced labyrinth, this story of murder and intrigue has a decided metaphysical edge that is worth checking out.
“He has the key to the house in his pocket—the one to the little glass door—that Madame Smite gave him. Marchat has fled, leaving him a clear field: he himself will play the role of the businessman, to see if by some miracle someone will come to murder him.”
NOIR ON FILM
One could argue that noir is truly a film and not a literary genre—and there are certainly so many fine moments on film to choose from. The last scene of Kiss Me Deadly comes to mind…a few tense moments in Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker, which showed just how good this much underrated female director was.
I’m also a big fan of Walter Mosely’s writing and I think he does for the black Los Angeles milieu what Chester Himes did for Harlem. In the film of Mosely’s Devil in a Blue Dress, Don Cheadle delivers another of his remarkable performances as the gangster Mouse Alexander. It’s extraordinary how Cheadle, who is not a large man and can play such likable parts, instills a sense of real violence and menace, and even craziness, along with loyalty in this character.
On film, noir is most often thought of in terms of mood and lighting, and seemingly chance and yet carefully composed peripheral design settings. But it’s of course always the tension of the characters interacting that creates the impact. Sometimes the best scenes are not the big dramatic confrontations, but those subtler moments…like the way Richard Basehart doesn’t react the way you expect when the detective comes to visit him at his all-night drugstore in Tension.
I frequently skip through The Maltese Falcon for one single moment—the astonishingly simple but suggestive reply of the Gutman character played the legendary Sidney Greenstreet to Humphrey Bogart’s question about the danger posed by Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). To say so little and say so much is the mark of the great actor, and the tension in the air is a hallmark of why noir continues to fascinate.
But for my all-time pick of the moment that captures the essence of noir, my choice would be that trap door realization when the penny drops for Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Double Indemnity when he finally sees how Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) has played him. It’s impossible to imagine better casting than Stanwyck. No wonder Robert Wagner was smitten with her.
See Kris Saknussemm on Tour!
4/2 Portland OR / POWELLS, 7:30 PM
4/3 San Francisco CA / Cherry Bleeds Happy Hour @ THE KNOCK OUT, 6:30 PM
4/4 San Francisco CA / BORDERLAND BOOKS, 3:00 PM
4/7 NYC / New York Review of Science Fiction, SOUTH STREET SEAPORT, 7:30 PM
4/10 San Francisco, CA / BOOKSMITH, 7:30 PM
4/15 Tempe AZ / CHANGING HANDS, 7:30 PM
4/17 Austin TX / RIO RITA, 7:00 PM
4/25 Williamsburg NYC / PETE’S CANDY STORE, 6:00 PM
4/30 West Hollywood CA / BOOK SOUP, 7:00 PM
5/9 San Diego CA / MYSTERIOUS GALAXY, TBA
Contest Time! We’re giving away two copies of Kris Saknussemm’s novel Private Midnight to two lucky commentators and it’s very easy to enter. All you have to do is answer this one simple question: What do you think of noir literature? Do you have a favorite noir film that is an absolutely must see? Unfortunately guys, this contest is only open to US residents.
As always, if you want more chances to win, you can post about today’s contest on your blog, social network, or anywhere you can. Digg it, stumble it, twit it, share it with the world. Wherever you share it, make sure you add a link to it along with your answer (yes LE is now on Twitter as well!). The more places you share it, the more entries you get.
Join the Literary Escapism blog group and/or Page over on Facebook and you’ll get an additional entry (for each page). Make sure you leave a comment so I know that’s why you’re joining. Only new readers to the group will be considered.
For 2 additional entries, subscribe to Literary Escapism’s newsletter in the sidebar. This is for new subscribers only.
For 2 more entries, purchase a copy of Kris’ Zanesville, using the LE Amazon store (or by clicking the link) and then send me a copy of your receipt via email (myjaxon AT gmail).
I’ll determine the winner with help from the Research Randomizer. All entries must be in by midnight on April 7th.