Friday, April 27, 2018

Historical Fiction: Noir by Christopher Moore

A new Christopher Moore novel is always a welcome sight. When reading one of his books, you know you are in for a fun ride with more than a few twists and turns, and with plenty of off-beat characters and witty dialogue. So when Noir came out a little over a week ago, I did my best to get it onto DSN as soon as possible.

The Situation: Sammy "Two Toes" Tiffin tends bar at Sal's in San Francisco. Though his boss, the aforementioned Sal, was nice enough to give Sammy a job after World War II when jobs were in short supply, the two men do not much care for each other. And since Sal knows the truth about Sammy's past, he decides to make his employee do his dirty work when he agrees to do a favor for an Air Force General. The timing could not be worse though as Sammy has just fallen head over heels for a woman ("Yeah, a dame, that's how it starts..."). And miracle of miracles, Stilton (like the English cheese) seems to like Sammy too. If he can manage to not screw anything up, and pull off the favor for Sal, he will be able to keep his job and have the woman of his dreams. 

The Problem: Of course Sammy manages to screw it up, and it seems Stilton is done with him when contact stops and she is not at her job or her apartment. But this becomes only one of his problems when the local racist cop gets in a scuffle with one of Sammy's black friends, and a deadly snake, whose shipping crate was addressed to Sammy, is set loose on the city. Add in a government cover-up, a creepy cult, a foul-mouthed kid, and the eccentric uncle of a friend who is far to eager to result to murder, and Sammy has a situation on his hands that will require every colorful character he knows and their particular set of skills. 

Genre, Theme, History: This is a historical fiction novel, set in San Francisco in 1947, that is more often put under the category of humor than anything else. Moore is known for taking real events and people and putting them into unique and hilarious situations of his own creation. And with this book, he has it all done in the vein of the noir genre. Many of the characters, though fictional, are based off of real people that Moore either read about, or knew at some point in his life. There was a racist cop who was known for his intention of keeping the population San Francisco as white as possible. And the character of Thelonius Jones, a giant but soft-hearted black man, is based on someone Moore knew as a child. And because this story is set in 1940s America, racism and sexism abounds. From the various pet names that men insist on calling women (lots of "toots" and "doll"), to Sal's insistence that one of Sammy's friends is not welcome in his bar due to him being Japanese (and he's actually Chinese), some of the dialogue and descriptions in the novel will perhaps make many people cringe. But Moore makes sure to warn the reader beforehand, and it becomes clear throughout the novel that this is not behavior condoned by the author.

My Verdict: The intricate plot line is there, as are the diverse characters with various quirks, and the quick-witted and sometimes hard-to-follow dialogue. Yep, it's a Moore book alright, and yet there were often parts of it that I found to be a bit boring. Perhaps it was the narration which was sometimes told from Sammy's point of view, and other times by a narrator who went unknown until about midway through the book. Or it could have been the complicated plot. Or it could have been because there were many moments where an interesting character and their situation was introduced, only for the story to quickly move on to something else, forcing the reader to leave the new and interesting character behind for a something less dynamic. It is funny, it is entertaining, and it certainly has enough going on, but even so, certain parts lagged, while others felt forced and/or rushed. Either way, still worth checking out, especially for those with an affinity for the noir genre.  

Favorite Moment: When Thelonius Jones reveals Sammy's nickname of "snowflake."

Favorite Character: Moore gives Thelonius Jones an incredible backstory as well as a heart of gold. He loves his mother, as well as her cooking, and uses his incredible strength and size to look out for his friends. 

Recommended Reading: I still need to visit a lot of Moore's earlier work, but I recommend The Serpent of Venice, which is currently my favorite book by the author.        

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