Review: Noir by Christopher Moore
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Humor, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hardcover: William Morrow | Audiobook: HarperAudio (April 17, 2018)
Length: Hardcover: 352 pages | Audiobook: 9 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Johnny Heller
Noir was my first experience with the writing of humorist Christopher Moore, and I was not disappointed. In fact, it’s been a few days since I finished reading the book, and every now and then I still catch myself chuckling at the memory of some of the wild and whacky things that happened in it. Although I’m unable to comment on the way this novel compares with the author’s other work (I’ve come across some reviews from longtime fans that mention that it feels different), l can nonetheless understand why many readers find his stories entertaining.
The book opens in San Francisco, 1947. Protagonist Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin is working as a bartender at Sal’s Saloon, when a beautiful blonde named Stilton (like “the Cheese”, which is henceforth how she will be known to Sammy) breezes in through the door and captures his heart. However, the romance will have to wait, because soon afterwards, Sammy’s boss puts him in contact with an Air Force general who desperately needs his help. Certain “goods and services” are required at an upcoming function being held at the Bohemian Club, and Sammy, with his street smarts and connections, is in the perfect position to make it all happen.
But then, the Cheese disappears, and Sammy grows worried. More troubles also begin mounting as some of his other harebrained schemes proceed to spiral out of control, resulting in poisonous vipers, dead bodies, and the arrival of black-suited government men bedecked in dark sunglasses. Subsequently, when Sammy sets out on his search for the Cheese, he inadvertently stumbles into a loony conspiracy involving a mysterious flying object spotted over Mount Rainer, topped off by an unexplained plane crash in the desert near a town called Roswell, New Mexico.
Part satire and part homage, this novel feels like a zany, breathless love letter to the noir genre. Its influence can be seen everything, from the cover to the dialogue, attitudes, and mannerisms of the characters. It’s a bit like being transported straight into a 1950s classic noir film, with the tone and style of the writing giving the story’s post-war San Francisco an authentic flavor. Moore also provides fascinating commentary on the inspiration for his setting, as well as some of his experiences and the research he did into the culture, history, and environment of the city’s vibrant Chinatown.
That being said, Noir also has the feel of a tongue-in-cheek satire, which apparently is something of a specialty for the author. Certain elements are done in an over-the-top way to emphasize or poke fun at some of the genre’s more distinctive features, including larger-than-life heroes and coquettish femme fatales. As a result, rather than dark and tense, the atmosphere has been replaced by an eccentric, madcap energy that pervades the whole book, so that you have whacky things like chapters written from the perspective of an all-knowing snake, space aliens being smuggled away in rumble seats in the dead of night, and sexy beautiful women with nicknames like “the Cheese”. Noir is not really “noir” as such, in that it doesn’t really fit the style or the tone of the genre, and yet, the overall mood is still very much there, featuring a strong undercurrent of conflict and despondency in spite of some of the sillier themes.
At the end of the day, I suppose what really matters is that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. Humor being such a subjective beast, I wasn’t sure if my tastes would mesh well with Christopher Moore’s style, but it appears I no longer have to be concerned on that front. If it means getting more of the same laughs and cleverness I found in Noir, I’m definitely on board to read more of the author’s work.
Audiobook Comments: Johnny Heller has a voice well-suited to a book like this. The gruff raspiness of it might be jarring in any other story, but it turned out to be a good match for a lot of the characters in Noir, especially for Sammy, a slick and somewhat jaded protagonist with a lot of shady connections. More importantly, the humor also comes out in Heller’s performance, as he delivers the satire and lines of snappy dialogue with instinctual timing and flair.