Page Turners

Noir and the Post-War Loss

NoirCover

 

Listen, I’m aware that I have a tenancy to repeat myself a tad on this site. It’s all built around me rambling about things that I love, so it stands to reason that there are certain topics that I come back to, time and time again. I mean, I watched every episode of the Simpsons, it’s clear that I’m more than a tad obsessive. And, one of those topics that I’ve brought up again and again has been my deep love for stories that can even tangentially be referred to as noir. The hardboiled detective, film noir, and the entire aesthetic of crime stories are incredibly up my alley, and almost certainly going to be something that will pique my interest. I’m also a huge sucker for satire, particularly tongue-in-cheek satire novels that manage to take the piss out of a genre I love while also telling a very solid story inside that genre. So, when I learned that Christopher Moore, an author who absolutely excels at that type of satire I love, was writing a novel simply called Noir, I was excited. I’ve really enjoyed basically everything that I’ve ever read from the guy, and by now I’ve learned to go in as blind as possible. I knew it was going to be Moore’s take on noir. That was enough to get me to pick it up without learning much more than that. Because, boy does Christopher Moore know how to swerve on you, delivering a story that you didn’t expect. And he delivered on that idea again with his newest novel, because I sure as hell didn’t expect to end up where we did.

Noir follows a man named Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin, a bartender in San Francisco a few years after the end of World War II. Sammy has largely falsified his past, including the fact that he served during the War, and is just trying to keep his head down and live a quiet life, hanging out with his fellow late-night workers and a precocious child who lives in his apartment building. But, one night while working Sammy meets two people who change his life. The first is a beautiful woman named Stilton who he instantly falls for, and the other is a secretive Air Force officer who is working with Sammy’s scumbag boss to influence his way into the mysterious Bohemian Club. Oh, and that officer also happens to have recently come from Roswell, New Mexico where he found something out of the ordinary. Sammy goes through a few days, seeing Stilton and deciding that he needs to get rich to give her the life she deserves. This of course takes the form of him working with a buddy of his Eddie Moo Shoes, a host at a club in Chinatown, in order to smuggle a black mamba snake into the town in order to sell as an aphrodisiac. This, the influence of a corrupt vice cop, and Eddie’s criminal uncle throw Sammy through the ringer, until something really alarming happens.

Stilton goes missing, seemingly after taking up Sammy’s boss’ offer to accompany the Air Force officer to the Bohemian Grove. Sammy ends up becoming a bit of an accidental detective, heading all around the city in order to find out where his missing love is. And, in the process, he finds himself trapped in a strange conspiracy full of lesbian club owners, agents from an unknown government agency, and a whole lot of corpses. But, he eventually finds his way to Bohemian Grove only to find Stilton, and the corpse of what appears to be an alien. The two manage to escape the Grove, and find themselves chased around the city by the government agents, trying to tie up loose ends and get the corpse of the alien, which turns out not to actually be dead. In true Christopher Moore fashion things become a wild farce, with everything falling apart and coming together in a way that you never would have expected, blending all the insane story elements together in a wonderful oddity.

I really enjoyed myself with this novel. I feel like writing satiric noir must be incredibly fun, since most noir by itself is just a stone’s throw from satire. It’s all so over the top to begin with, so throwing in moonmen, whatever the hell goes on in Bohemian Grove, and all the other shenanigans that this books blends in is just a cherry on top. I’m a huge sucker for Moore, and I think he does a great job taking the tropes of the noir genre, and doing his own thing with it. Sammy Taffin falls into that role that I love so much, the accidental detective, and plays out a really satisfying story. The aliens, Moloch, and snakes are just a bonus.

But the thing that I found most interesting about Noir, and something that Moore clearly thought a lot about, was the way that it examined the strange feeling of life after a war as huge as World War II. It may not seem like this is the type of novel to really get into something like that, but I found myself really becoming interested in this time period. Because everyone just seems lost. Sammy himself is just kind of a grifter, floating through life and trying to get ahead while hoping that no one knows that he didn’t actually serve in the War, even though he had a physical disqualification that kept him from serving, because the idea of someone having not served was just baffling. But what I find even more fascinating were characters like Stilton. She had a job as a welder during the War, something that gave her real purpose. And, once the war ended, she was expected to just go back to being a second-class citizen, someone who wasn’t allowed to earn her own living that way. And she’s not alone. This book is full of characters who find themselves in a post-War world of prosperity, a time where the American Dream is supposedly flourishing, and they’re all stuck in a rut, forced to work jobs that keep them nocturnal, trying to figure out where their lives have gone wrong. The American Century has left them behind, and they don’t know how to cope with that. So, as interesting as moonmen and the Bohemian Grove are, it was the stories of these simple people that ended up sticking to me the most, and made this one of my favorite stories Moore has ever told.

 

Noir was written by Christopher Moore and published by Harper Collins, 2018.

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