Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at Noir fiction. Put on your trench coats and fedoras and let’s get started!
- One hard-boiled, alcoholic private eye
- One dame who done him wrong
- A spectacularly grimy city, with skyscrapers
- Entire vats of cynicism
- An informant named either ‘Jimmy’ or ‘Benny’
- Guns named after women
- A sinister crime boss
- Absolutely no happy endings
- Put your PI in a grimy office and have him monologue about things. It can’t be about anything happy or banal, and must be filled with questionable metaphors.
- In walks our femme fatale for the evening! They flirt.
- She wants him to investigate a murder, for reasons that are slightly dodgy.
- Our PI investigates the scene of the crime. There are Clues. All the important ones have been missed by the police, who are incompetent, corrupt, or both.
- Time to visit the informant and find out what he knows. He’ll tell you, because he’s a coward.
- Oh no! A Clue has led you to a place where criminals hang out! Time to treat your life with utter disdain and sneak in in the most brazen way possible. Hi-jinks ensue.
- The boss wants to see you. This is never good. You should monologue some more so the reader gets it.
- The sinister crime boss warns the PI to drop the case, stay away from the femme fatale, or similar. It’s a very tense conversation, and always done in front of hired goons.
- Ignore him! There’s still eleven steps to go.
- Meet up with the femme fatale again and flirt some more. Something she says doesn’t quite add up, but she’s hot, so it doesn’t matter.
- A gunfight! Join in.
- You have a Clue that contradicts the evidence of the first Clue, in a way that is too intricate and complex to articulate in a sarcastic twenty-step overview! WHAT CAN IT MEEEEAN?
- Something bad happens to slow down the investigation! It could be a break-in, a beat-up informant, or maybe even another murder. Monologue about it.
- The femme fatale and the PI have a tender/romantic/sexy moment together. Allow a brief sliver of hope, but get ready to crush it later.
- So close to finding out the truth! The PI just needs one more edge piece and the puzzle will be solved…
- …but oh no, he’s arrested! It’s highly suspicious.
- The crime boss appears again, and offers the PI one last chance. Ignore him, he’s not the protagonist.
- Break out of jail! Have a chase scene! Punch a guy! Cram the last few pages with action.
- Turns out the femme fatale was behind it all along! What an absolute shocker.
- Finish off with a big gunfight. The PI survives, but the femme fatale, the crime boss, and that last sliver of hope definitely don’t. Walk off into the rain, bitterly.
THE END. Serve with plenty of liquor.
- Always write in first person. If it doesn’t sound like a bitter drunk is telling you the story while slumped over a barstool, start again.
- Not sure where to set it? It doesn’t really matter. Near future dystopia, Roaring Twenties, nursery rhymes – anywhere can be a noir setting if you put a depressing enough spin on it!
- Never ever call women ‘women’. Only ever refer to them as dames, broads, doll, toots, or tomatoes. (That last one is not made up.)
- All your gangsters need to have nicknames. They don’t have to make sense, though.
- Always make sure your main character has a cool name. He’s got to beat up bad guys and solve murders, and he can’t really do that if he’s got a name like Gerald.
- Cram it full of questionable metaphors. If you get stuck, elaborate, and then put ‘if ya know what I mean’ on the end of the sentence. Readers will assume you are wise-cracking and witty, instead of thinking that you fell down the rabbit hole with a thesaurus in your hand. If ya know what I mean.
- Contractions and slang make your main character sound tough. ‘You’ is always ‘ya’, don’t hesitate to use no double negative, and always go for ‘gotta’ over ‘got to’. Proper grammar is for wusses.
And here’s one I prepared earlier…
They say this city used to be the kinda town where everyone knew each other. A guy couldn’t go a block without seein’ someone he knew. A little old lady with an apple pie. Maybe some kids, playin’ on the sidewalk. Musta been nice.
These days, it ain’t so pretty. Sure, there’s a few familiar faces. But they ain’t exactly friendly. Ya see ’em steppin’ out of alleys with a gat pointed at your belly and ya think ‘Gee, didn’t ya rob me last week?’
Not me, though. Nobody robs Mac Hunter. Even in this city, where sleepin’ in the gutter is a step up, nobody’s dumb enough to rob the best PI in town. Besides, they all know I’m broke.
Feet on the desk, I pour myself another glass of hooch. Business is slow, slower than a snail with a gammy leg. I oughtta be drummin’ up a case, but to hell with that. It’s rainin’. Always rains in this godforsaken city.
I light up a Camel. Yellow light stripes through the Venetian blinds, like a zebra, only one with really straight stripes that’s been turned ass over teakettle. Electricity broke two weeks ago and the landlord won’t do a damn thing about it. Says I oughtta be grateful for a place of my own. Hell. He oughtta be grateful he answers to Jimmy “Spoonface” Giuliani. If ol’ Spoonface wasn’t in the picture, he wouldn’t be so quick to run his mouth off.
There’s a knock at the door. Hell. Landlord, again.
“Velma! Get the door!” I yell, before I remember that Velma walked out last week. Said a secretary wanted payin’ in more’n just stale whiskey. She’ll be back. She sticks to me like gum that’s been covered in glue, and then dunked in molasses, and then glue, again. Never could say no to a man with a pack a day habit and a gun in his pocket.
But then the door opens, and trouble walks in. Turns out, trouble is a redhead.
Legs for days and all the way up to her waist, if ya know what I mean. Poured into a dress as black as a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight and with all the lights off. Curls like spiral staircases twirling up to the top of her head, and I couldn’t think of a man who wouldn’t slug a guy to climb ’em. Fur coat. Shiny gloves. A ring that coulda bought half the city, but that ain’t sayin’ much.
“Well?” she says, in a voice like November, “aren’t you going to give me a seat, Mr Hunter?”
Aw, hell. I tip an ashtray and a few empty bottles of hooch off of a chair. She shakes her head, mutters ‘November?’ and sits herself down. It’s like watching a bottle of oak-cask whiskey uncork itself and wriggle towards your hand.
She frowns. “Oak-cask whiskey?”
“Never mind. What can I do you for, Miss…”
“I betcha are.”
“Mrs Lola Valentine.”
“He’s a lucky fella.”
She fits a cigarette into a long holder. Before I know it I’m lightin’ it for her, like some chubby little drone buzzin’ after the queen bee. Only, with cigarettes and a lighter in my fuzzy bee paws. Note to self: do bees have paws? Probably oughtta look that one up.
She gives me a strange look and takes a drag. “He’s a dead fella, Mr Hunter.”
Damn. Now I remember. Her dear departed husband musta been Frank “Steps” Valentine. Rich. Old. In the Mayor’s pocket and not the one at the back, if ya know what I mean. Shot in the back of the head not two weeks gone. Coroner ruled it a suicide. They always do.
“I know my husband’s death wasn’t a suicide,” she says, fixin’ me with a look that pinned me like a butterfly on a collector’s board. Only, a manly butterfly, with trenchcoat wings, a fedora, and a gat named Ginger in his hand. Antenna.
“Now, Mrs Valentine…”
“You know it too. I heard the tone of your monologue. I want you to find out who killed him. I’ll pay you well, of course.”
She knew I could do with the money. But “Steps” Valentine played a dangerous game, and I don’t mean no game that could be played with the lovely Lola. All kindsa scum had muscled in on Valentine’s racket and his body was barely cold. Eddie “Llama” McMurphy had his slice of the rum-runners. Vincenzo “Beaker” Gorlami was movin’ in on the girlie shows. And worst of all, Boris “the Holly Bush” Krazinsky was havin’ dinner with the Mayor every night, and you betcha he was gettin’ two scoops of ice cream with desert, if ya know what I mean.
But ‘danger’ is my middle name. No, really. It says ‘Mac Danger Hunter’ on my birth certificate.
“And if I don’t take the case?”
“Then, Mr Hunter,” she says, givin’ me a smile that drains all the metaphors right outta me, “I’ll take it to a gumshoe that doesn’t monologue out loud.”
Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.