Noir novel: what it is, its emergence, main characteristics and authors


What is the crime novel?

Although it has also been called noir literature, the term -noir novel- is used in particular, because this has been the narrative format in which it has been disseminated. It is a type of text, also considered a subgenre, in which the story is developed around a crime, where there is also usually the presence of detectives.

What is the crime novel

The crime novel and the detective novel have often been confused. However, it is distinguished from the detective novel, from the treatment given to the detective or whoever occupies a similar role, as it is not the most important axis of the story. Rather, in the crime novel, greater importance is given to marginalized characters who are usually presented in colloquial language, for example.

The emergence of the crime novel

It is considered that the origin of this type of literature takes place during the first years of the 20th century in the United States. During this time the country was going through an important economic crisis produced by the development of the First World War and also by the Great Depression, a moment that took place after the war. From an environment in which uncertainty abounds, but also fear, violence, corruption and insecurity, after the second trigger, authors begin to write stories inspired by these events, but also by Prohibition and organized crime, later on.

Among the initial authors of this genre that would gain great strength in posterity, are Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. These stories, in their beginnings, would be disseminated from media such as magazines, and would be aimed at the working public. This would be the reason why the language used is easy to understand and does not involve further analysis for its interpretation, remember, moreover, that these are texts that give greater importance to the marginalized classes. The expansion of the first texts was motivated by a social concern, which will also be reflected in the urban setting of the stories, following the specific reader.

The use of the term -negro- as an appellative to differentiate these texts, was mainly due to the settings in which the stories often took place. Another important aspect that contributed to the application of the companion had to do with the first publication of the texts in Black Mask magazine. In this way a set of texts would emerge in which their authors were especially focused on expressing and emphasizing the why and how the crimes are developed, rather than on the resolution of each of the cases, this being a crucial factor that empowers the texts within the criticism and reflection of a social nature.

Development of the crime novel

To keep the tension and attention on the actions that happen at the moment, the authors have chosen to use the protagonist narrator who is usually given either to the criminal directly or to the detective of the case. However, this is not a rule within this type of literature, as some authors also prefer to use other types of narrators such as the witness narrator or the omniscient narrator.

In the development of the stories, another of the most important axes is how the story is told. In this case, we are talking about works in which we mostly find a narrative in the past tense with a linear time. Often the background of the cases or the actions are given by testimonies or witnesses who constitute the secondary characters of the crime novel.

It is possible to identify some of the most important variants within its development. Thus, there are classifications that divide the noir novel works according to the criminal’s point of view, the victim’s point of view, the dictator judge’s point of view or in which the detective is the protagonist of the story.

Characteristics of the crime novel

Having reviewed its organization and emergence, it is time to look at some of the key characteristics of this type of text, as well as the features that usually allow its development, since we know that artistic creation also implies a participation of the author’s own style.

Focus on marginalized characters

As we have mentioned, the crime novel is especially distinguished by its focus on colloquial slang characters who are often marginalized. However, this does not mean that within its development other characters from other strata are not present, but that in particular, this one receives greater attention.

This could also be an indicator that the works show real characters within the stories. Among them we can often find sex workers, policemen, thieves, etc., who “feel” real because in the course of the stories the process and the decadence they reach is expressed in which the reader is the observer.

Importance of action

In order to deal with this type of themes that tend to generate a persistence of tension in the reading, authors usually use verbs in motion in order to give special importance to the action, since it plays a fundamental role in the plot.

Motives for the crime

Often the motivation for the execution of crimes is dominated by a weakness of the human being. Among the possible causes are envy, hatred, revenge, greed, rage, rancor, power, among others.

Setting of the works

Noir novels often take place in urban settings where crime seems to be much closer to the characters and their inhabitants. That is why the panorama of noir novels has a gray tinge with a constant threat set in a realistic space. In particular, they deal with urban environments nurtured with the lower strata of society that open the place to criticism of social character with the contrast and how they are described.

Participant reader

Another of the most important features of this type of literature has to do with the reader directly, since the narrators often used within these texts, usually take the reader by the hand, presenting the details, the case, the progress of the investigation and the facts, in such a way that it turns him into a witness of the mystery, in which he participates as an observer.

Presence of the mystery

Although crime novels include agents that awaken the mystery, the truth is that in these texts it does not occupy a major role in the development. This is because the information allows the reader not only to know the execution of the crime, but also the previous stages that led to it and its triggers.

Complex intrigues

Since crime novels pay special attention to how crimes are developed and the motives that drive them, the intrigues of this type of works have a great degree of complexity in which elements such as conspiracies are present for the development of these events.

Profile of the detective

Although he is a character that is present because he is the axis in which a crime is developed, the detective has other characteristics within the story. Often it is a detective with unorthodox faculties for the resolution and even subject to some kind of vice.

Promotes reflection

Another important aspect of the crime novel has to do with the fact that, for many authors, crime becomes a good excuse to offer a deep reflection that revolves around the themes it develops, such as violence, cruelty, perhaps also injustice, corruption, vices, among other important elements. This will be seen especially when they are presented as the cause of the degradation of the characters themselves.

Authors of the crime novel

Authors of the crime novel

Among the most important authors of this type of texts, we find the following: Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Walter Mosley, Cornell Woolrich, Camilla Läckberg, Åsa Larsson, Donna Leon, Fred Vargas, Francisco Angulo, Fernando Ampuero, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Juan Sasturain, José Luis Zárate, Mario Vargas Llosa, Rosa Ribas, Rodolfo Pérez Valero, Mario Mendoza, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, James Hadley Chase, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, Evan Hunter or Ed McBain, Philip Kerr, Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, Walter Mosley, among others.

Also among the most relevant works of literature or crime novels are: The Maltese Falcon, The Curse of the Dain and The Thin Man written by Dashiell Hammett, Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell, Casino by Nicolas Pileggi, The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, The Lady in White by Wilkie Collins, The Oxford Secrets by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, The Carter Street Crimes by Anne Perry, The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, Irene by Pierre Lemaitre, among others.

It is important to highlight that the crime novel is one of the areas in which works have grown significantly, giving rise to new explorations by authors who follow some of the above-mentioned references for their creations. That is why it is currently one of the most booming genres in the literary world.

Learn more about the world of literature in our section dedicated to this type of art, where you can learn much more information about its classification, history, authors and more.