Nearly a century ago, in the United States, the detective novel met the Western fiction : in a thriving urban country just emerging from the horrors of World War I, a new literary genre was born. Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald successively mastered it.
Sixty years ago in France, Jacques Prévert named the collection that Marcel Duhamel was creating for Editions Gallimard: the “Série Noire” was born, and French readers discovered a new form of literature. The terms “roman noir” and “film noir” prevailed. Paradoxically, this American literary genre adopted a French name.
Since then, the American roman noir has continued to expose the dark side and weaknesses of its country. James M. Cain and Jim Thompson have taken it up, followed by James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane. The cinema contributed also to the evolution of the genre. Tarantino joined in, then the Coen Brothers and David Fincher. Television as well picked up the trend in series such as “Breaking Bad”, “The Wire” and “True Detective”. The codes are adopted, transgressed, and twisted to describe and denounce a country that leaves so many behind. Today, writers are taking over, transforming yesterday’s roman noir, making it more radical, more free.
They carry on the legacy of a century of roman noir, mixing it assertively with Shakespeare and decades of popular culture. They play with the codes of the genre and their references, juggling with a culture acquired from films and books. They are relentless observers of a country marked by economic crisis and perpetual war, plagued by drugs, racism and inequality. They are at the same time realistic, funny and violent, resolutely anti-establishment.
They take the pulse of a country they know only too well. You will not come across them at cocktail parties, and they will never win the Nobel Prize. Yet, they are likely the most sincere and dynamic writers in American literature today. They make neo noir.
Read them. You will lose some illusions, but you will get a thrill out of it. And you will continue to discover with us the wide spectrum of America.