Noir – Christopher Moore
Hardcover (library), 339 pages
Okay, so maybe I’m breaking the rules here. Christopher Moore’s latest novel Noir isn’t about classic movies, but it’s set in a universe that classic movie lovers (especially those with an inclination for film noir and/or hardboiled fiction) will know and love. Consider the opening line from the first chapter:
“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes – – a size-eight dame in a size-six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it…”
It’s San Francisco, 1947. Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin is minding his own business, tending bar at a local joint when a woman named Stilton (like the cheese) walks in, turning every head in the place. Once Sammy puts his eyes back in his head, he finds that – oddly enough – Stilton seems interested in him as well. A rendezvous seems imminent, but first Sammy’s got an appointment with a man about a questionable business venture: extracting snake urine to produce a formula for increasing sexual potency in men. There’s also a subplot about an Air Force general who’s up to some weird shenanigans that could potentially involve Sammy. Did I mention there’s also a crooked cop following Sammy around? Did I also mention there’s talk of an unusual place crash in Roswell, New Mexico that may have a connection to Sammy?
The familiar “girl walks into a bar” scenario turns into the unfamiliar without abandoning many of the classic noir tropes: the man with a past, the mysterious beauty, the femme fatale, the corrupt cop, etc. Moore gives us all this and more, yet throws in so many (but not too many) outliers to keep us on our toes. A word of warning: for those who are dead serious about their film noir/hardboiled fiction, be prepared for some wildly outrageous humor, scenes that will have you spewing your gin and tonic to make way for uproarious laughter. Moore has a wonderful sense of when and how much to combine the thematic elements we recognize with comedic exaggeration. Imagine what type of fiction Raymond Chandler would’ve written while hanging out with Mel Brooks.
In fact, Noir reads like what might’ve happened if Robert Siodmak had been assigned to direct a film noir starring the Marx Brothers. You can almost see the black-and-white cinematography, the shadows, the ceiling fan blades, the tilted camera angles, but you’re also waiting for the next joke to knock you on your keister. Noir is a riot. Anyone who loves classic film noir as well as hardboiled fiction will appreciate it. Don’t miss it.