Gritty and Nostalgic: Our Favorite Classic Noir Mysteries
One of the true joys of reading mysteries is that they come in just about every genre, from the supernatural to the psychological to the cozy. Noir mysteries, just like cozies or thrillers or any other kind of mystery, have their own distinct feel. If you’re in the mood for gritty stories with morally dubious protagonists, or if you’re feeling nostalgic for classic detective stories, these six noir mysteries will hit the spot. The characters in these novels often make less-than-stellar choices. The atmospheres are grim. Whether set in postwar 1940s LA, a tight-knit working class neighborhood in 1960s Queens, or deep in the Missouri Ozarks, these books explore the often blurry lines between good and evil.
The Black Dahlia begins with a disturbing scene: the tortured body of a young woman, dubbed the Black Dahlia, is found in a vacant lot. The crime soon makes headlines in 1947 LA, and it draws two detectives to the case. Cops Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are good friends, but as the hunt for the killer heats up, they both become unnaturally obsessed with the Black Dahlia. As the case progresses, taking them through the shadowy underbelly of 1940s Hollywood, they come face to face with evil of all stripes--including the darkest corners of their own minds.
Related: Crime and Fiction Meet Film Noir
A Morning for Flamingos, the sixth installment in James Lee Burke's bestselling Dave Robicheaux series, will definitely get your heart racing. After a standard assignment transporting two death-row prisoners goes terribly wrong, Dave Robicheaux finds himself wounded and without a partner. Hungry for revenge, he takes an undercover mission from the DEA, infiltrating the New Orleans crime scene. He's soon caught up in the dangerous machinations of a powerful Mafia boss, and his only chance at survival is to finally face his own darkest fears.
L. A. Confidential
Another crime classic from bestselling author James Ellory, L.A. Confidential delves into the corrupt world of the LAPD. The novel is based on a real-life instance of police brutality that took place in 1951, known as "Bloody Christmas", where six prisoners were violently beaten by cops The novel follows three cops in the aftermath of Bloody Christmas, and another act of possibly-linked violence, a massacre in a coffeeshop. This is noir at its darkest; though certainly action-packed, it's also a character study of three men deeply embroiled in violence and corruption.
Give Us a Kiss
by Daniel Woodrell
Foreword by Pinckney Benedict
In Give Us A Kiss, Daniel Woodrell leaves behind the familiar landscape of city-based noir mysteries and instead takes readers deep into the heart of the Ozarks. The novel follows Doyle Redmond, an at-a-loss thirty-something crime novelist who returns to his hometown of West Table, Missouri in a car he stole from his estranged wife. In Missouri, he meets up with his brother Smoke, who's just about to harvest a massive marijuana crop. Doyle soon gets caught up in drug deals gone wrong and old family feuds. It's not long before the crime novels he writes start to feel a lot more like real life.
It's unlikely that you'd immediately associate a crime novel with a story that celebrates books and reading, but that's exactly what George Pelecanos does with The Man Who Came Uptown. The story concerns Michael, a man who spends his time in prison devouring the books he receives from the librarian, Anna. When he's suddenly released, thanks to the quick work of a private investigator, Michael struggles to adjust to life in a changed city. He's balancing a new job, his newfound love of reading, and the debt he owes to the investigator who got him released. And the temptation to head back into a life of crime is always just around the corner. Exploring the difficult choices that we are so often forced to make, this book is a smart, fresh take on noir mystery.
In 1965 in Queens, New York, Ruth Malone is a single mother working as a cocktail waitress to support her two young kids. When those kids go missing, the cops investigating the case immediately turn their attention to Ruth herself. Every aspect of her life, from her drinking to the men she sleeps with, is suddenly put on trial. She's soon viewed by the media, and the cops, as a loose woman and unfit mother. Told in the alternating POVs of Ruth and a young tabloid reporter looking for his big break, Little Deaths explores how sexism and judgement in the public eye so often conspire to obstruct justice. It's based on the real-life story of Alice Crimmins.