Screening Room: ‘Blow the Man Down’

My review of the new movie Blow the Man Down — which starts this Friday on Amazon — ran at Slant Magazine:

Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s Blow the Man Down starts on a literally self-aware note. The opening sequence shows the fishermen of a coastal Maine hamlet not just hard at work netting, spiking, and chopping up their catch, but also singing a rousing rendition of the 19th-century sailors’ song that gives the film its title. Full-throated and haunting, the piece is sung right to the camera as though it were a music video for some Americana band. But even though what follows is shot through with a keen understanding of genre necessities and an impatience for wasting more time on them than is necessary, the film never veers into wink-wink self-consciousness that its opening might have suggested…

Here’s the trailer:

Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: ‘St. Louis Noir’

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For over ten years now, the good folks at Akashic Books have been publishing a fantastic series of city-centric collections of noir fiction that cover dozens of locales, everywhere from Baltimore to Beirut.

This month sees the publication of their newest volume, St. Louis Noir. Edited by the inestimable Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest), it’s a crackerjack anthology of stories that cover the dark and seedy underbelly of the Gateway City.

There are some fantastic new pieces by Phillips, John Lutz, and Laura Benedict.

My short story “The Pillbox” is also included.

Buy it now wherever noir is sold, like here, here, or here.

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Reader’s Corner: Women and the New Noir

meganabbottIt used to be that mysteries were a particularly men-centric corner of the publishing world. You had your Agatha Christie and later on Janet Evanovich and Patricia Cornwell. But while those authors could sell in the millions, the authors that many literary types preferred tended toward the male: Raymond Chandler and the like.

But more recently, in the post-Gone Girl era, that seems to have changed. Not only do female readers appear to be taking up more of the audience, and women authors occupying more of the bestseller positions in the genre, but the books are increasingly being critically recognized.

There’s good reason for that, argues Terrence Rafferty:

The female writers, for whatever reason (men?), don’t much believe in heroes, which makes their kind of storytelling perhaps a better fit for these cynical times. Their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence. Murder is de rigueur in the genre, so people die at the hands of others—lovers, neighbors, obsessive strangers—but the body counts tend to be on the low side. “I write about murder,” Tana French once said, “because it’s one of the great mysteries of the human heart: How can one human being deliberately take another one’s life away?” Sometimes, in the work of French and others, the lethal blow comes so quietly that it seems almost inadvertent, a thing that in the course of daily life just happens. Death, in these women’s books, is often chillingly casual, and unnervingly intimate…

Writer’s Corner: James M. Cain

doubleindemnityAlthough famous for skillful thrillers like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain was at heart a higher-toned sort of writer than his output might have suggested. A onetime managing editor of the New Yorker, he left for California and a different style of writing. Although his novels were full-on potboilers about cynical but ultimately foolish men and the women who dragged them into murder, Cain had the heart of a true literati. Unlike his contemporary Raymond Chandler, though (who often appeared to think himself above what he wrote), Cain seemed more at home bridging the two worlds.

In this Paris Review interview, published not long after his death in 1977, Cain holds forth on a great number of topics, tossing off the bon mots like confetti. To wit:

  • New York is not even a city, it’s a congerie of rotten villages.
  • Editorials (we called them idiotorials) were written by trained seals whose only qualifications were that they be in favor of motherhood and against the man-eating shark.
  • I slip into the Vulgate every once in a while—an affectation I only half-understand. There I am speaking impeccable English and suddenly I lingo it up.
  • I tried to write the Great American Novel, and wrote three of them, none of them any good.
  • I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.