I get annoyed when any story that contains a crime is categorized as noir. There’s a lot of argument about what constitutes a noir novel or movie, but as far as I’m concerned the definition is pretty simple: noir is about bad things happening to bad people – as opposed to tragedy, which is about bad things happening to good people. Using this rough definition it can be argued that “The Maltese Falcon” is noir, but “The Big Sleep” is not. I love both works but “The Big Sleep,” for my money, is a detective story – Phillip Marlowe is a little dodgy but is basically on the up and up, and he nails both the bad guy and the girl in the end, (two different kinds of nailing, of course.) On the other hand, Sam Spade is an adulterer and he sends a woman that he loves off to be hanged; things end pretty badly for both of them. In terms of film, “Out Of The Past” is classic noir, and so is “Detour” – but “Laura” is a detective story, no ifs, ands or buts. Also, I don’t buy the idea that noir has to be black and white, what could be more noir than “Chinatown?” And on the subject of black and white, going back to “Laura,” that film’s black and white photography creates a world that is lush, sophisticated, and glamorous, far from moody and menacing.
In terms of my writing, “Madness,” which will be out soon, comes the closest to being noir, with “Chinese Puzzle” coming in a close second. At least two of my three protagonists in “Chinese Puzzle” cannot be described as having sterling characters, and the ending is bittersweet at best. “Fear The Living” is a mystery/thriller and “No Sin In The House Of Death,” is more of the Gothic/horror variety.
I never set out to create noir, rather I try to create characters who are complicated, often troubled, and let their actions play out as honestly as possible with the chips falling where they may – the result often turns out to be noir. Which begs the question, is life itself, for most of us, an experience best described as noir?