Christopher Moore Goes Noir
Christopher Moore has written about vampires and death, taken on King Lear, Van Gogh — even Jesus. With his latest, Noir, we’re headed to 1947 San Francisco for a look at post-War War II life, complete with a deadly snake, a heroine named after a cheese and a whole lotta slang.
“The tough guy talk,” was definitely part of the appeal of taking a stab at crime fiction, Moore told us. “I really like the stories of Damon Runyon, which are all told in that Guys and Dolls vernacular,” he said. Cinema played a role too. "More of the tough-guy talk comes from the film tradition rather than literature. I love Shane Black’s movies, from Lethal Weapon, which he wrote, to Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and The Nice Guys. Perfect mixes of action, suspense and humor.”
It’s a balance Noir strikes well — you’re rooting for Moore’s hero, Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin, even as you’re wincing at his poor decisions and wondering about Sammy’s new dame, Stilton — yes, like the cheese. And while there’s darkness inherent in the genre, Moore assures us he’s still a comedy writer. “The story mimics the darker, more hopeless tradition of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain — stories where some poor, working mug gets drawn into dark circumstances, usually by a dame. Of course, I write comedy, so the darkness is sort of limited. “
And while you’re laughing and cringing, readers can also expect to learn a little something, thanks to Moore’s trademark extensive research. “I hope the reader can see a little slice of history amid the comedy,” Moore told us. “There was a second great migration of African-Americans during World War II, workers moving from share-cropping in the South to good jobs in defense factories in the North and the West. It changed the make-up of cities and explains a lot how and why neighborhoods are the way they are today,” Moore said. “The Chinese community in San Francisco, already huge at the time, was in transition, drawing distinctions between themselves and the Japanese, and marketing the novelty of their culture to the Anglo population, when only fifty years before it was actually illegal to be Chinese and work in California,” he added.
The author, who often sets books in San Francisco, told us of his love for the city. “I grew up in a factory town in Ohio where people couldn’t wait to leave. San Francisco has always been a place that people come to, by choice. Writing about the city in the 1940s was fun because basically it looks very much the same way it did then, only the demographics have changed.”
If you need convincing to pay Fog City a visit, Moore’s ready to play travel agent. “Over the years, I’ve been to almost every major city in the U.S. and San Francisco [stands] out as the prettiest,” he said. “Also, the weather is awesome. I always like autumn the best of any season and San Francisco weather is basically autumn all year long. The best thing about it? It’s a toy city. You can walk all over the place in a day, see tons of interesting stuff, experience different cultures and still not hit the steps on your Fitbit,” he told us, though he admits there is a downside: “It’s a ridiculously expensive place to live.”
Next up for the author? He’s returning to the work of the bard, telling us, “I’m working on another Shakespeare-based book, where I send my fool, Pocket, into the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” As the course of true love never did run smooth, we'll be waiting for another wacky adventure.
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