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The Best American Noir of the Century Hardcover – October 5, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Surprisingly, 20 of the 39 well-chosen stories published between 1923 and 2007 in this impressive crime anthology date to the last two decades, which may sound counterintuitive to casual readers who associate noir with the 1940s and 1950s. All the contributors excel at showing the omnipresence of the dark side of humanity in many different times and locales. In addition to names synonymous with noir such as Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson, Ellroy (Blood’s a Rover) and Penzler (The Best American Mystery Stories) offer depressing fare from writers better known for other work, like David Morrell, whose first published story, “The Dripping,” about the disappearance of a man’s wife and daughter, is one of the book’s best. Lesser-known authors also distinguish themselves, like Christopher Coake, whose reverse chronology in ‘All Through the House” serves to heighten the suspense rather than dissipate it. (Oct.)”
---Publishers Weekly, STARRED

"This generous, flavorful collection of noir-tinged tales comes cherry-picked by Ellroy and Penzler, who exclude Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as authors of "private detective stories." Most of the 39 tales here appeared originally in magazines, not only in pulps like Manhunt and Black Mask but also in the more literary American Mercury, Southern Review, and Omni. Each story is introduced with a brief author biography. These pay respect to the careers of these professional scribblers, who managed (with the aid of multiple pseudonyms) to keep body and soul together writing and writing still more. The collection opens with Tod Robbins's "Spurs" (1923), a beauty-and-the-beast tale that questions which is which; it was the basis for Tod Browning's chilling movie Freaks. The collection closes with Lorenzo Carcaterra's "Missing the Morning Bus" (2007), in which, amid half-emptied bowls of peanuts and salsa, Death takes a seat at a weekly card game. In between come memorable but lesser-known tales by, among others, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, and Bradford Morrow. Verdict Rooting around in the rich soil amassed by almost a century of noir, Ellroy and Penzler unearth dark, pungent, and flavorful truffles that will satisfy fans and may well whet the appetites of new readers." —Library Journal

From the Back Cover

“Well worth its impressive weight in gold, it would be a crime not to have this seminal masterpiece in your collection.”—New York Journal of Books

In his introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, “Noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad.” Offering the best examples of literary sure things gone bad, this collection ensures that nowhere else can readers find a darker, more thorough distillation of American noir fiction.
      James Ellroy and Otto Penzler mined writings of the past century to find this treasure trove of thirty-nine stories. From noir’s twenties-era infancy come gems like James M. Cain’s “Pastorale,” and its postwar heyday boasts giants like Mickey Spillane and Evan Hunter. Packing an undeniable punch, diverse contemporary incarnations include Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, and William Gay, with many page-turners appearing from the past decade.

“Delightfully devilish . . . A strange trek through the years that includes stories from household names in the hard-boiled genre to lesser-known authors who nonetheless can hold their own with the legends.”—Associated Press

James Ellroy is the author of the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy—American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s a Rover—and the L.A. Quartet novels, The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz. His most recent book is The Hillicker Curse, a memoir.

Otto Penzler is the founder of the Mysterious Bookshop and Mysterious Press, has won two Edgar Allan Poe Awards (most recently for The Lineup), and is series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Best American
  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 Reprint edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547330774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547330778
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Otto Penzler is the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop (www.mysteriousbookshop.com) in New York City and is regarded as the world's foremost authority on crime, mystery and suspense fiction. He founded The Mysterious Press in 1975, which he later sold to Warner Books (1989). He reacquired the imprint in 2010 and it now publishes original books as an imprint at Grove/Atlantic, and both original works and classic crime fiction through MysteriousPress.com (www.mysteriouspress.com), in partnership with Open Road Integrated Media.

Penzler is a prolific editor, and has won two Edgar Awards, for Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection in 1977 and The Lineup in 2010. The Mystery Writers of America awarded him the prestigious Ellery Queen Award in 1994 and the Raven--the group's highest non-writing award--in 2003.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Calling your collection "The Best American Noir of the Century" takes major guts. Creating a collection that spans more than 700 pages takes .44-caliber cojones. Thankfully, James Ellroy and Otto Penzler were up to the task. "Noir" is, in a word, fantastic. The collected stories are arranged chronologically, beginning with a 1923 piece from Tod Robbins (whose story was the inspiration for Tod Browning's classic horror film FREAKS), and ending with a 2007 entry from Lorenzo Carcaterra. There is a strong emphasis on recent noir (the 30s get one entry, the 60s and 70s two), but everything ultimately balances out, and you'll have a hard time telling which stories come from which decades (except for the fact that they're clearly labeled as such).

Many of the expected names are here: Ellroy himself; James M. Cain; Mickey Spillane; Patricia Highsmith; James Lee Burke; Dennis Lehane; Joyce Carol Oates (who manages to appear in every collection of every genre, somehow); Lawrence Block; Elmore Leonard. We get a nice little horror story from David Morell, a sci-fi story from Harlan Ellison, and a straight-noir piece from horror author Ed Gorman. If this sounds like an eclectic collection (and it is), that's because Ellroy and Penzler are working from a certain definition of noir. They draw a distinct line between "noir" and "detective" fiction, insisting that noir's Hollywood counterpart (film noir) isn't representative of the literature itself (thus, no Dashiell Hammett). It still leaves enough room for pieces that push the boundary, though, and the result is a collection aimed to please. These are hard-hitting stories that star characters with few redeeming features; these stories are dark and twisted, violent and obsessive. They'll scare you, they'll thrill you, they'll make you want to take a shower. "The Best American Noir of the Century" may be a debatable title, but no one can argue that this isn't at least SOME of the best noir America has created.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This anthology has taken me over a week to complete. With 39 writers and stories all who share the same qualities of noir storytelling. This anthology is not for the squeamish or easily frightened. It is for those of us who enjoy taking a short visit on the dark side of humanity but will always return to the light.

39 stories in this anthology are unique and could be even expanded to novel format. They have inspired films and television programming. The authors are listed below with the year of the story's publication, the title, and my own personal comments without it sounding like a summary. I do believe that if you are an avid reader that you will find this anthology to both fascinating and frightening all at once.

Author Year Title Comments

Tod Robbins: 1923 Spurs An interesting tale that inspired the film, Freaks, about a midget and his lady love and unhappily ever after.

James M. Cain: 1928 Pastorale Interesting but I need to read it a few times to get the gist of it.
Steve Fisher: 1938 You'll Always Remember Me-It's dark, entertaining, and there's a twist that you didn't see coming. Classic Noir.

Mackinlay Kantor: 1940 Gun Crazy Okay but not great.
Day Keene: 1945 Nothing to Worry About: The not-so perfect murder and a twist that you didn't see until the end.

Dorothy B. Hughes: 1946: The Homecoming: It's okay.

Howard Browne: 1952: Man in the Dark: Interesting and has some twists that you couldn't imagine.
Mickey Spillane: 1953: The Lady Says Die!: It's okay but not that interesting.
David Goodis: 1953: Professional Man: Fascinating Tale about Freddy Lamb, the ordinary guy, and Pearl.
Charles Beaumont: 1955: The Hunger: It's okay but ends before it reaches a climax.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Best American Noir of the Century" is a collection of 39 short stories selected by author James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, who is also the series editor of "The Best American Mystery Stories". The stories were written 1923-2007, so I'm not sure which century the title refers to. Later decades are represented more heavily, which may disappoint some readers. Only 9 stories were written before 1955, during the peak years of hard-boiled fiction. There are 10 stories each from the 1990s and 2000s. I don't know if the sparse selection from the hard-boiled genre's strongest years is due to copyright issues or the editors' wish to promote newer material.

Casual readers may be surprised to find that no stories by Dashiell Hammett are included. He is, after all, the father of hard-boiled fiction whose Continental Op stories are still widely read. Otto Penzler explains in his foreword that he considers private detective fiction and "noir" fiction to have "mutually exclusive philosophical premises". In short, private detectives are too heroic, insufficiently flawed, and their vision of the universe not pessimistic enough for "noir". I don't think that dichotomy holds much water, myself. A principled detective can function in a fundamentally disordered universe, and there are plenty of fictional PIs who succumb to their baser impulses, in any case.

But they're excluded from this "noir" collection. The stories that are included are probably best described as having dark themes. Given Penzler's criteria, it's surprising to note that relatively few stories take place in a fundamentally disordered universe, and there are plenty in which the protagonist is acting as a detective. I would even venture to say that some are morality plays.
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