This month’s On the Shelf entry is another product of a conference swag bag and it combines three of my favorite things the Noir genre, satire, and the city of San Francisco. I have to say, in my entire life rarely have I come across a book that so wildly altered my perception of it as I read. I began reading with great excitement, became bored and disinterested, then finally became enthralled as I finished one of my most enjoyable reads in a long while. I hope you’ll go on this madcap zany adventure with me as I discuss Christopher Moore’s Noir.
Noir focuses on Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin, a bartender in post-war San Francisco. A confluence of events involving a snake, an Air Force general, and a woman named Stilton (like the cheese) leave Sammy in way over his head. To be honest, the story takes a little while to get going. The plot has a lot of moving pieces and the first half of the book takes its sweet time getting these pieces into place. More than once I had to set this book down after only a chapter or two because it wasn’t moving fast enough for me. But boy was it worth it, because when this story takes off it becomes a zany, madcap romp that will make you laugh out loud at multiple points.
The most important thing to know about Noir is that it is a satire of the noir genre. Sure, it stands on its own as a great read but if you want to fully appreciate its zaniness it helps to be well versed in the tropes of noir fiction. From refereeing to its Femme Fatal character as “The Cheese” to the wisecracking kid who uses completely random vocabulary words to insult any and every adult around him. Again though, there is little to distinguish Noir in its first half other than some slightly exaggerated characteristics and a few in-jokes (Forget it, It’s Chinatown). But when the plot hits high gear so to do the jokes as Sammy Two Toes ends up through the rabbit hole in a never-ending spiral of absurdity.
I’ll admit that this book scored easy points with me by being a fairly accurate portrayal of post-war San Francisco. I’m not quite old enough to remember those days but I grew up hearing stories from my Grandparents and the way this novel filled in some of that history and caught the feel of pre-tech bros San Francisco really made me Nostalgic for home. At one point, Sammy mentions taking three busses to get from the Mission to Hunter’s Point for a job and he was literally describing my mid-twenties. If you are a native San Franciscan or just want to get a feel for what the city was like back in the day, this is as good a novel as any in terms of accuracy and flavor. It’s cliché to say that a city is another character in a novel but in this case, with this city, it’s certainly true.
Christopher Moore’s Noir is a fantastic piece of satire that starts slow but is well worth your patience. His attention to detail shows up both in his mastery of the genre and in his setting of post-war San Francisco. As much as you might think you know where the book is heading it does have one or two surprises in store for you and the journey is well worth your time. This is a novel that is worthy of a spot next to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler On The Shelf.