SIGN UP FOR THE MULHOLLAND BOOKS NEWSLETTER for breaking news, exclusive material, and free books

Noir Seal of Approval

Jun 06, 2011 in eBooks, Guest Posts, Video Games

As a contributor to LA Noire: The Collected Stories, we asked Andrew Vachss to give us his thoughts on noir. Read Andrew Vachss’s story “Postwar Boom” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice. | | iTunes | Sony

I learned, a long time ago, that people can read for entertainment and come away with enlightenment, so long as the vein of truth runs throughout and doesn’t detract from the narrative force. I understand there are those who believe “noir”—or “hardboiled,” or whatever term they prefer to lavish upon themselves—writing shouldn’t be cluttered up with “that other stuff.” As if littérature engageé is only acceptable in “magical realism” novels translated from original Incan scrolls. All these “outlaws” who want me to live by their rigid little rules … good luck to them. I understand I am too “pulp” for the literati, and too “literate” for the pulpsters. Lost a lot of sleep over that. I’d rather burn a bridge than crawl over it, and genre- worship isn’t one of my disabilities. Apparently, as with all religions, some people believe they can dictate definitions. I don’t ask these self-appointed high priests for the “Noir Seal of Approval” that only they (think they) can grant.

Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of two dozen novels, including The Weight, his latest. To read an excerpt from this crime-fiction novel about Sugar, an old-school professional thief, visit

Tagged as: , , , , , , ,

6 Responses »

  1. Right on. I’ve read you for a decade or more and the message is the story.
    I try my best to do the same in my own tales. nihilism is the refuge of
    Cowards and the jaded bourgeoisie.
    That’s been the story since day one, when Hammett wrote the Op.
    HUAC didn’t go after him for nothing.

  2. Although some insist on believing otherwise, the boundaries of noir fiction have never been staked out beyond dispute. Everybody thinks they know it when they see it but few can give a definitive description. Because, as a genre, it has been a constantly evolving thing. And the best of it has always mirrored society and reality (the “vein of truth” Mr. Vachss calls it in his article above) as accurately as any so-called “literature” … The impact and importance of Andrew’s work over the years cannot be denied. Arguing whether or not if fits as noir, hardboiled, pulp, literature or what have you, seems pointless. His work always makes for a damn fine read, and the message is achingly real and worthwhile.

  3. As a writer who has yet to be published, but who refuses to quit, I’m glad someone had the guts to say what Mr. Vachss has about the ridiculous attempt at limiting noir.

  4. Noir, or whatever you’d like to call it, can be bent and twisted and dressed up in a myriad of way; with it’s cousin the police procedural, the Noir ‘genre’ is going everywhere from from urban fantasy (The City And The City, China Mieville) to the science epic (Blade Runner, Phillip K. Dick — I refer to the movie very specifically here; the book is a whole other beast but the film draws deeply on the Noir aesthetic) to the ‘somewhere, something like this really happened and Andrew Vachss was hip deep in it’s human wreckage’ of the Burke books or otherwise.

    I write Noir, or crime fiction, or whatever you’d like to call it — but it includes robots and race tensions and alternate history. Doesn’t mean that there’s no ‘Noir’ element simply because it includes the fantastic. The basic elements of crime, corruption, and entropy remain. The ‘vein of truth’ – that people can be terrible, that crime can pay, but never the ‘right’ people, and so on – is what validates it as ‘Noir’ for me.

    And frankly, Mr. Vachss, I’m pleased to see your work associated with L. A. Noire; as a gamer as well as a reader, it’s moved the experience up a notch.

    • I’m not a gamer, and my writing has no business ever being compared to Vachss or anyone else’s who can twist the written word into something more meaningful than a bunch of letters on a page. But what’s important here is not just the stories (although we wouldn’t be here without Burke, his family, or any other character that Vachss created), what matters is that the content is real and that is the reason we respond to it. We trust Vachss’ stories simply because from the very beginning he has been willing to be completely honest with us. This is REAL life, whether we want to believe it or not. And whether or not “noir” is your thing, you can never lose sight of that.


Leave a Response