A genre which I recently discovered and have been more or less in love with ever since doing so, is the detective, noir, mystery genre. Of course those are all subgenres of the same basic idea, but they each come up a little different, and of course in my reading experience very different, because I’m not one to stick to the basics, but rather look for something extraordinary and experimental to stretch the brain a bit. Here are a few of the most interesting titles I’ve scrounged up in recent years that I think you should read. I think in part, it’s because some of my favorite writers are equally in love with the genre, making it an incredibly easy process of jumping out of genre to enjoy a new book from someone I respect so much.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – By Mark Haddon. An autistic boy seeks out to uncover the mystery of his neighbor’s dead dog. Of course, all along he uncovers much more, about the world in which he lives and the relationships his family leads. An amazing book, which takes fully liberty with the genre and does wonders.
Kiss Me, Judas -By Will Christopher Baer. A dark, disturbing, horribly good hardboiled adventure. This is the kind of book that the nihilists of the genre salivate over. Phineas Poe is a washed up ex-detective with Internal Affairs who wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, his kidney removed by a prostitute. The book is unforgiving, and Baer is surely the Edgar Allen Poe or Albert Camus of the detective story genre.
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World – By Haruki Murakami. Murakami is probably my favorite author. Period. He’s a genius of the written word, and I’m reading in translation. Beginning with his first book Pinball, 1973, he has always had a strong interest in the detective genre, but this is his finest. An ode to Hammett and Borges all in the same piece. Genius.
The Intuitionist – by Colson Whitehead. The 21st century’s answer to Richard Wright, Whitehead writes a brilliant racial allegory wrapped in a detective story that can truly bend the mind. I read this in a class and thoroughly enjoyed the attention to genre and disregard to constraints. His characters are odd, and his methods odder, but the prose is literary in ever regard, all the while throwing back to the best of 40s noir.
Chocolate Hollow Bunnies of the Apocalypse – By Robert Rankin. This is hilarious. Kid gets lost in toyland. Kid meets stuffed bear detective. Kid must solve mystery of famous denizens being murdered…i.e. humpty dumpty, etc. A classic from a writer that still doesn’t see the light of American publication. Imported from the UK.
Gun, With Occasional Music – By Jonathan Lethem. Lethem is my second favorite writer and a brilliant twister of genre. He’s done science fiction, coming of age, detective, and in some cases all three wrapped into one. This is one of those. A detective in the not so distant future must battle musical guns, and trench coat wielding kangaroos.
The Long Goodbye – By Raymond Chandler. A classic. Chandler was one of the inventors, and thus this is a must. I read it on a whim when I realized how interested I was in the mechanics, and then read it again. For anyone who’s read any other book on this list, or any comic book by Frank Miller, or seen a movie with even partial black and white or a broke detective, you have to read Chandler.
The Eyre Affair – By Jasper Fforde. Not really a detective novel…but then again, not really not a detective novel. Fforde blends it all together in this highly literate, supreme farce. His Thursday Next novels are always a little weirder with each new entry, and that much more endearing to the whole genre bending façade he’s created.
The Maltese Falcon – By Dashiel Hammett. The quintessential book for me. I’ve written two short stories based on this one and seen the Bogart film a dozen times at least. I love this novel and will continue to love it as long as Hammett remains the kind of all things Noir.
With a couple of classics and a slew of new and interesting books by some of the best writers around, the detective noir genre has become something of a pet project of mine. I not only read it and try to find the best entries new and old, but I write it and like any good detective writer, I try to figure out how to take it apart. And isn’t that the key to all things detective related, taking something apart.