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The Killer Inside Me (1952), a noir novel by Jim Thompson. The guilty party? "All of us."

Noir fiction (or roman noir) is a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre,[1] with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include a self-destructive protagonist.[2] A typical protagonist of noir fiction is dealing with the legal, political or other system, which is no less corrupt than the perpetrator, by whom the protagonist is either victimized and/or has to victimize others on a daily basis, leading to a lose-lose situation.


Origin of the termEdit

In the English-speaking world, the term originated as a cinematic one.[3] Film noir refers to cinematic works influenced by novels of the hardboiled tradition, exhibiting postwar disillusionment and realism as influenced by German Expressionism.[4] "Noir" was popularized in the 1980s as applied to fiction by editor Barry Gifford of the crime fiction publisher Black Lizard.

But, as Eddie Duggan points out in his 1999 article on Cornell Woolrich, the word "noir" was used by the Paris-based publisher Gallimard in 1945 as the title for its Série Noire imprint. Woolrich's biographer, Francis M. Nevins, suggests the series title may have been inspired by Woolrich's own 'Black' novel series (The Bride Wore Black (1940); The Black Angel (1943) etc.. Duggan also discusses the distinction between so-called "noir fiction" and hard-boiled writing.[5]

Genre's pioneersEdit

James M. Cain – also regarded as the third major figure of the early hardboiled genre {insufficient citation} [6] – is regarded as an American pioneer of the noir genre. He debuted as a crime novelist in 1934. Other important American writers in the noir genre include Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Williams, and Elmore Leonard.

Variants of noirEdit

Mediterranean noirEdit

Photo by Paolo Monti, 1975

Mediterranean noir is noir fiction in a Mediterranean setting. Sex, crime, and physical violence often figure prominently in Mediterranean Noir narratives. Social and historical issues specific to the region – particularly governmental corruption and instability, war, and racial strife – are frequently underlying plot considerations. Prominent authors of the movement include Jean-Claude Izzo, Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto, Eduardo Mendoza, Batya Gur, Yannis Maris and Enrico Teodorani.

According to the Italian publisher Sandro Ferri, Mediterranean Noir is remarkable for its attention to a unique duality of Mediterranean life:

The prevailing vision in the novels belonging to the genre known as Mediterranean noir is a pessimistic one. Authors and their literary inventions look upon the cities of the Mediterranean and see places that have been broken, battered, and distorted by crime. There is always a kind of dualism that pervades these works. On one hand, there is the Mediterranean lifestyle– fine wine and fine food, friendship, conviviality, solidarity, blue skies and limpid seas– an art of living brought almost to perfection. On the other hand, violence, corruption, greed, and abuses of power.

American noirEdit

W. R. Burnett, part of the first wave of hardboiled writers along with Hammett and Cain, wrote in a style that split the difference,[clarification needed] often featuring heroic gangsters as his leads. The five novels featuring alcoholic detective Bill Crane, written by Jonathan Latimer over the course of the 1930s, constitute one of the earliest literary series of hardboiled screwball comedy. The work of Charles Willeford has sometimes been referred to as hardboiled or, particularly, noir fiction. But it is perhaps more helpfully characterized as "neo-noir," as Willeford's crime writing rarely employs the conventions of hardboiled literature without critiquing them.

Of latter-day hardboiled novelists who regularly feature detective protagonists, the most prominent to write in a noir mode is James Ellroy. In terms of character, plot, and worldview, Patricia Highsmith is a quintessential writer of noir fiction—her work has been the source for numerous movie adaptations, both American and European. But her style sets her apart: far from "lean" and "direct," it is characteristically dense and subtle.[citation needed]

Urban noirEdit

Urban Noir focuses on the "underbelly" of life in a variety of major cities, including London, Shanghai, Chicago, and Boston. Johnny Temple, founder of Akashic Books (a noir publisher focusing on cities), cites a common urban noir thread as "authors whose life circumstances often place them in environments vulnerable to crime."[7] Akashic has published noir anthologies for more than 50 cities and features short stories from some of the best known urban noir writers. They have published pieces by mainstream and crime/mystery writers known for occasional noir incursions, such as Don Winslow, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard and Lee Child.

Existential noirEdit

International crime fiction highlights the political nature of the genre. "Noir fiction serves to deconstruct the security state by exposing its acts, secret and public, of hypocrisy, venality, and brutality."[8] Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon, set in Nazi-occupied France, is an example of Existential Noir.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ William Marling (1998-10-01). The American Roman Noir: Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. ISBN 978-0-8203-2081-6.
  2. ^ Tuttle, George (1997). "What Is Noir?". p. 1 of 2. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  3. ^ Schrader, Paul (1971). "Notes on Film Noir". Filmex. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  4. ^ Mark Bould (2005-12-15). Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City. Wallflower Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-904764-50-2.
  5. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126.
  6. ^ Abbot, p. 4
  7. ^ Johnny Temple (2013). USA noir. Akashic Books. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-61775-184-4.
  8. ^ "Christopher G. Moore, A Meaning of Noir".

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit