Noir fiction is a staple of sunny California. Sometimes the protagonist is an ordinary guy lured to his doom by a sexy femme fatale. Sometimes he (seldom she) is just a nasty person who mistreats others but does not commit actual crimes. Usually, however, the protagonist is a private detective, relentlessly pursuing miscreants as bodies pile up around him. Less familiar than any of these types of noir novels are the ones in which the leading character starts out as a criminal. These guys may have different goals, but criminal behavior is what defines their lives. Here are five examples for fans of noir fiction:
1. High Sierra by W. R. Burnett. Roy Earle, famously portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 movie, is planning to pull off one last job.
2. Deep Is the Pit by H. Vernor Dixon. A bank robber sheds his previous occupation and enters San Francisco’s upper crust.
3. Fast One by Paul Cain. A brutal underworld enforcer is enjoying his stay in Los Angeles until he finds himself framed for murder.
4. The Peddler by Richard Prather. A young thug becomes an organization man of sorts when he lands a low-ranking job in the San Francisco mob.
5. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes. A serial killer in Los Angeles winds up investigating his own crimes.
Four of these books should be easy to find. Fast One and The Peddler are in print. Fast One and High Sierra are available on Kindle. In a Lonely Place, while not in print or on Kindle, can be purchased from many on-line used book stores. In addition, quite a few libraries have copies of one or more of the books. Deep Is the Pit is the exception. Although it has a Kindle edition, it presents a problem for Kindleless readers. It’s not in print, few internet booksellers offer copies, and even fewer libraries (none in California) have copies available for loan.