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Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / ... a Dead Man (Library of America) (Vol 1) Hardcover – September 1, 1997

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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  • Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / ... a Dead Man (Library of America) (Vol 1)
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  • Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s: The Killer Inside Me / The Talented Mr. Ripley / Pick-up / Down There / The Real Cool Killers (Library of America) (Vol 2)
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Literature and film buffs will be delighted by this collection of pulp novels, most of which were made into important films. James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice is a literary masterpiece with its spare prose invoking a savage, sexy, desperate world. It inspired no less than three great movies: Luchino Visconti's classic Ossessione, in 1942; the 1946 remake, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner and directed by the extraordinary Tay Garnett; and Bob Rafelson's underrated 1981 version with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. When you read the magnificent source for these movies, you'll be astonished at how three different incarnations could all, in their own ways, be faithful to the novel.

Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man also became three movies: No Man of Her Own, with Barbara Stanwyk; the French I Married a Shadow; and the American comedy, Mrs. Winterborne, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Ricki Lake. Edward Anderson's vivid Thieves Like Us was transformed into They Live by Night, Nicholas Ray's first important movie and one of the seminal noir films of the 1940s. It was brilliantly remade in 1974 by the great revisionist director Robert Altman. Kenneth Fearing's The Big Clock was transformed into a marvelous film starring Charles Laughton; 40 years later, the same source, retitled No Way Out, brought Kevin Costner to stardom. William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley was the source for Tyrone Power's best movie; Horace McCoy's experimental They Shoot Horses, Don't They? became one of the seminal films of the 1960s.

These dark, evocative novels, when taken together, are a fascinating study of how words can inspire a magnificent variety of cinematic images and styles.

From Library Journal

The Library of America gave a tremendous boost to the reputation of hard-boiled detective fiction with the inclusion of Raymond Chandler among its illustrious ranks (Classic Returns, LJ 9/15/95). This new two-volume set is another giant step in the direction of legitimacy for the pulp mystery genre. This duo collect 11 of the best crime novels in which the criminal rather than the sleuth is the central character. Included here are such gems as James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Chester Himes's The Real Cool Killers. These tales of murder and mayhem belong in all fiction collections.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 990 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America (September 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883011469
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883011468
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on November 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Library of America is a first-class organization. The LOA is consistently reprinting volumes of literary achievement by the most notable authors in American history. They have reprinted everything from political speeches to poetry to historical works. This volume is the first in a two volume set dedicated to American noir stories. The stories in this book were written in the 1930's and 1940's in what seems to be the golden age of the genre.
The first story is from James Cain, and it's a whiz-bang of a tale. I had heard of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" before, mainly in reference to the two film versions of the story. This is one dark read. Adultery and murder never seem to mix, and it sure doesn't here, either. Told in first person narration, a drifter gets himself mixed up with a washed up beauty queen who is tired of her Greek husband. The result is classic noir: a conspiracy to murder the poor schmuck and run off together. As usual, the murder brings about tragic consequences. This story has more twists and turns than you can imagine. The ending is especially atmospheric. This is certainly one of the best stories in the book. I always like to see a story where the blackmailer gets a good beating.
Horace McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is next in line. This is another great tale that was made into a film in the 1960's starring Hanoi Jane Fonda and Gig Young. The movie is soul shattering, with depictions of dehumanization in the neighborhood of "Schindler's List." The story is not quite as good, but it still packs a heck of a punch. The story is set in Depression-era America and depicts the horrors of a dance marathon. These marathons were apparently quite popular during the 1930's, until they were ultimately outlawed.
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Format: Hardcover
It's welcome recognition of the rich body of American noir writing that the Library of America has decided to gather these novels and include them in it's collection. This volume, along with it's companion, "Crime Novels: American Noir of the '50s", is perhaps the definitive collection of this genre. While this volume is not as strong as the second volume collecting hard boiled writing from the '50s, it more than makes up for it with the inclusion of two seminal novels from the genre: "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" The themes that would be later expanded on by Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, et al. are here: the uncertainty of reality, the indifference of fate, the allegories on the disfunction of mercantilist capitalism, the femme fatale as deus ex machina, the erosion of moral standards...themes that are that much more relevant today.
It's comforting in a way that these novels, which were considered (and still considered by some) as trash, disposable items of consumption, are collected along with the novels of Melville, James and Hawthorne...."elevated" to high brow lit.
Perhaps the original authors of these masterworks would disagree on the modern critical re-assessment, but to readers like myself, it's just confirmation of something we've known ever since we first discovered them.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an impressive collection of early and now scarce Noir novels. "The Big Clock" and "Nightmare Alley" are particularly hard to find outside of this volume.

Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" was probably the first crime novel I ever really got into, and it's a stunning departure from Agatha Christie-style mysteries. So much happens in this short book (as turns of plot, but also development of character) that it compares favorably to the first half Camus' "The Stranger." The drifter plumbs the depths of his desperation in a brutal attachment to another man's wife: it's not greed or lust that drives him, but a base need for someone to whom he can anchor himself. A raw and amazing experience, unmatched by anything else of Cain's.

McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is impressively vivid. I had no idea these dance-hall marathons took place before reading this story. This circus of exploitation of young and apparently desperate people certainly makes for excellent Noir. One of these benefits of reading these novels is the unearthing of buried episodes in America's past.

"Thieves Like Us" has been reviewed here as the weaker end of the collection, and I have to agree. It's still a very capable story of outlaws; and the stoicism of the young people caught up in the criminal's lives is admirably depicted here. I recommend reading Andersen's novel before the others (it's still definitive Noir), so one can more easily avoid expectations built up by the Cain and McCoy.

"The Big Clock" is interesting in the depiction of power relationships between employer and employee, and the shifting first-person style of telling the story works here.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1997, the Library of America published two volumes of American crime novels written in a noir style. Robert Polito, an editor, author, and scholar of noir literature selected the contents of the volumes. The first volume, which I am reviewing here, included six novels written in the 1930's and 1940's while the second volume included an additional five novels from the 1950's. The Library of America has the commendable goal of presenting the best and most representative American writing in its various forms, including fiction, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, news reporting, travel and more, in uniform editions. The LOA's publication of these two extensive collections showed an understanding that this once critically rejected form of genre writing has made important contributions to American literature. I became interested in noir about four years ago and have enjoyed exploring the genre.

It is difficult to pin down what "noir" means, and the six novels in this collection show that the style cannot be reduced to a formula. Each of the novels in the book center upon murder, and most are recounted from the standpoint of the perpetuator. Although the writing varies by author, the style of each book is in the tough, short, colloquial style called "hardboiled." The Depression forms the backdrop of each book in this collection, but the settings otherwise vary widely. Three books are set predominantly in diverse areas of California (a wealthy suburb, a shabby country roadside restaurant, and a grimy section of Hollywood). One book is set in corporate New York City and in its bedroom suburbs, while another book is set in back roads and small towns of Oklahoma and Texas. The last of the books is set primarily in the world of the travelling carnival shows touring the South.
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