Noir: It’s noir, it’s Moore; what else can I say?

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Noir by Christopher MooreNoir by Christopher MooreNoir by Christopher Moore

At the first sentence of this review I’m having trouble because: “Christopher Moore’s 2018 novel Noir is a hard-boiled detective story set on San Francisco’s mean streets…” only it’s not quite, okay, so, “Noir is a darkly funny comedy set in 1947 San Francisco, following cops and wise guys and…” only it’s not quite, or not only, so maybe: “Noir is a dark comedy set in 1947 with corrupt cops, sexy dolls, men in black, space aliens with a kinda-criminal bartender main character and this horrible little kid…”

Okay. Fine. It’s by Christopher Moore. By now you should know what you’re getting into.

Sammy Tiffin works at Sal’s, a seedy bar. One night he comes in to find a crate in the back room, addressed to him. Sal, his equally seedy boss, has opened it. Sal is dead in a disgusting way, and Sammy is concerned – concerned because the crate held a black mamba snake which is now loose.

Why would Sammy have a black mamba snake delivered to his place of business? Why would he call his new girlfriend The Cheese? Why does the corrupt cop hate Sammy? What does Sammy’s Chinese-American friend Eddie see in that girl Lois? Why doesn’t that Air Force general know that there are no women allowed at Bohemian Grove? What did Eddie’s Uncle Ho do to that cat? Who is the mysterious narrator who pops up now and then? Where did the little boy in Sammy’s building, who Sammy has more or less adopted, learn such strange and colorful epithets for people? Who, or what, is the moonman? All these questions and more will be answered by the time you get to the end of Noir, and some of those answers will even make sense.

Moore tries for a sense of period here and, for the most part, succeeds. In a forward to the book, he says, “The language and attitudes of the narrators and the characters regarding race, culture and gender are contemporary to that time and may be disturbing to some. Characters and events are fictional.” I suspect his publisher made him put that in, and the publisher was right to do so, because the book is filled with slurs in all directions. It feels appropriate to the story and still a little uncomfortable. Sammy is a pretty open-minded guy for 1947 but he has his moments. I loved the character of Lone Jones, but his belief that he isn’t really black made me a little uncomfortable. In an afterword to the book, Moore talked about a real life experience in the 1970s that was the genesis of the Jones character. It was uncomfortable too, and Moore acknowledges that. For me, while people talked and acted racist and sexist, the story did not approve of the behavior. I mean, it seemed like Moore would employ a stereotype, and then the story would turn around and punch that stereotype in the face. The Chinese plotline, however, is a little harder to rationalize, and it doesn’t punch the stereotype in the face.

Mostly, Noir takes a noir plot structure and then goes madcap crazy with it in a way we’ve all come to expect from Moore. It’s a big, tasty seven-layer-dip of craziness. There is an air force general who is trying to get into the secretive, exclusive Bohemian Club. At first he wants to bring a group of women to Bohemian Grove for the club’s annual two week party. No prostitutes, he says, although he will pay the women and they’ll be expected to “be nice” to the global movers and shakers. When this plan fails, the ambitious general comes up with something more enticing… but not before the women, including Sammy’s new girlfriend Stilton (aka The Cheese) and her friend Myrtle have gotten on the bus. Sammy must rescue The Cheese, dodge the mysterious men with dark sunglasses who are following him, nursemaid a corrupt, racist cop who was cold-cocked by Lone Jones, and find a lost back mamba. There’s also this thing about Roswell, New Mexico and a crashed “weather balloon” and three “subjects” who were recovered from the weather balloon. It’s a tall order and Moore manages to pull it off, while somehow still creating a tender love story and writing another love note to the City by the Bay.

There’s always some little thing that stands out in Moore book even with the seven layers of weirdness, and in this book it’s the boy in Sammy’s apartment building, who has quite a mouth on him. Here are a few examples of his name-calling:

“When the Martians get here you’ll fold like a furlong.”
“A furlong is a unit of measure. It’s an eighth of a mile.”
“No it ain’t and you’re a lyin’ furlong for sayin’ it is.”

“…I didn’t tell ‘em nothin’ the dirty marimbas.”
“A marimba is a musical instrument, Kid. Like a xylophone.”
“No it ain’t. You’re a stinkin’ liar.”

 Other put-downs include “solenoid,” “mascarpone,” and “ya dirty manchego.”

Basically, if you like Christopher Moore, you will probably like Noir. If you haven’t read him or think you don’t like him, there are obstacles to overcome here. The complete irreverence for everything might be hard to overcome. I like Moore, so I loved this. I also live in Sonoma County, California, so the accurate descriptions of Bohemian Grove left me snickering. It’s Christopher Moore. You know what you’re getting into.

Published in April 2018. The absurdly outrageous, sarcastically satiric, and always entertaining New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore returns in finest madcap form with this zany noir set on the mean streets of post-World War II San Francisco, and featuring a diverse cast of characters, including a hapless bartender; his Chinese sidekick; a doll with sharp angles and dangerous curves; a tight-lipped Air Force general; a wisecracking waif; Petey, a black mamba; and many more. San Francisco. Summer, 1947. A dame walks into a saloon . . . It’s not every afternoon that an enigmatic, comely blonde named Stilton (like the cheese) walks into the scruffy gin joint where Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin tends bar. It’s love at first sight, but before Sammy can make his move, an Air Force general named Remy arrives with some urgent business. ’Cause when you need something done, Sammy is the guy to go to; he’s got the connections on the street. Meanwhile, a suspicious flying object has been spotted up the Pacific coast in Washington State near Mount Rainer, followed by a mysterious plane crash in a distant patch of desert in New Mexico that goes by the name Roswell. But the real weirdness is happening on the streets of the City by the Bay. When one of Sammy’s schemes goes south and the Cheese mysteriously vanishes, Sammy is forced to contend with his own dark secrets—and more than a few strange goings on—if he wants to find his girl. Think Raymond Chandler meets Damon Runyon with more than a dash of Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes All Stars. It’s all very, very Noir. It’s all very, very Christopher Moore.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. I was just recently talking to some friends of mine about this book (and Moore in general) and one of the most-often said phrases was very much along the lines of “It’s Moore, so you know what that means…” But anyone who’s read even just one of his books knows what that means!

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