Summer In The Dark: Crime and the Capitalist Way

Deals made in the shade by those packing heat
Six noir novels for the Summer of 2018


Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
Drawn upon his experience as a Pinkerton strike breaker in the 1920 Anaconda miners strike, Hammett creates the character of the Continental Op, a detective hired by a copper boss to clear the town of the gangsters the boss originally hired to break a miners’ strike. The Continental Op knows the gangsters and he knows the cops and he knows how to set them against each other—all set in the town of Poisonville.

Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (1940)
Moose Malloy just got out of prison and he’s looking for Velma, his old flame. The big man drags Philip Marlowe into the search for Velma. By the end of the night, Marlowe witnesses Malloy kill a man. The cops aren’t overly concerned to find Malloy because the dead man is black. Marlowe decides to keep looking for Velma. The search draws him into the seedy side of Hollywood: blackmailers, drug peddling psychics, crooked cops and a crooked city government..

The Kill Off by Jim Thompson (1957)
Set in a resort town which did not enjoy any kind of post-war boom. Not only is the town not getting enough summer visitors, the richest lady in town is a mean gossip and everyone has a reason to kill her. When she’s found dead, the question is, which of the self-deceiving, vicious, and broke residents killed her? Jim Thompson, honored as a “dimestore Dostoevsky” excels in writing the interior monologues of isolated and frustrated small town individuals.

The Mad and The Bad by Patrick Manchette (1972)
This, like all good descendents of pulps, is a quick, violent story with an ending that is not a comfortable happy solution. Manchette, a veteran of the events of France during May of 1968, returned the French detective story to corruption and violence. In The Mad and The Bad thugs and a contract killer attempt to kill Julie, a troubled young woman, and her charge, an unpleasant orphan.

Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith (1974) continues the successful career of the murderer and art forger Thomas Ripley who decides to amuse himself by manipulating a man who slighted him into committing murder. Ripley uses gossip and the unsavory characters who move art forgeries to break a sick man anxious for his family’s well-being after his death.

The Shadow of a Shadow by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (2006)
Four friends gather to play dominoes in 1922. The Mexican Revolution has been betrayed and the four are trying to get by: the poet by writing patent medicine ad copy; the union organizer by silences and strikes; the lawyer by representing prostitutes; and the crime reporter by churning out copy. Left to their own devices, the group would have waited out Carranza’s presidency, but they witness a series of strangely related murders and begin to suspect a conspiracy involving the oil-rich lands of the Gulf Coast, greedy army officers, and American industrialists. Taibo sets the four out to investigate with a great sense of humor, despite the grisly realities.

THE ANTI-BOURGEOIS SUMMER READING GROUP is open to all. This is a second consecutive summer exploring noir/crime fiction. We spend two weeks on each book.

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Friday Noir: Women and Murder

Genre Fiction: Women and Murder
Last Fridays of each Month
Jacqueline Cantwell
March 30 and April 27

The March 30 author will be Shirley Jackson, notorious for writing The Lottery and the gothic The Haunting of Hill House. From 1943 until her death in 1965, she was popular and published by major magazines. Her stories of women’s social unease, inadequacy, and exclusion are the interior dialogues of victims limited by overbearing mothers and local gossips. Jackson also has a wicked wit. Her murderous children belong to the original Grimm’s fairy tales.

For April’s 27th meeting, we will leave Jackson’s domestic and white world of unhappy women, murderous children, and local gossips and return to the American noir setting of social crime by reading Nella Larsen. Unlike the prolific Jackson, Larsen published a few short stories and only two novels between 1920 and 1930. We will read her second novel, Passing. Unlike Jackson’s women, Larsen’s women are not limited because they are over-sensitive; racism denies them the ability to act upon their ambitions. In Passing, two mixed-race women, who had known each other in childhood, meet as married women who have chosen very different lives. Clare’s black working class background denied her the advantages of the black bourgeoisie, but her light skin conceals her African-American background sufficiently so that she is able to marry a wealthy and racist white man. Irene has married a black man, a highly regarded doctor. The tensions that arise from their re-acquaintance end in either a crime, accident, or suicide.

Nella Larsen’s life did not allow her to write much, but much has been written on her and about her in turgid academic prose. In this reading group, let’s look upon Nella Larsen as a woman involved in the writing and the issues of her day. She was an acclaimed modernist who wrote about racism, the major crime of American society.

No one turned away for inability to pay
$10 per single session

Jacqueline Cantwell has explored the depths of crime fiction along with the heights the desperate will often want to throw themselves from. These fictions will lay bare many of the facts of the cold as ice killings and cover-ups present in a modern world where we are expected to behave better—but very often do not. What better night than Fridays in Autumn for murder and mayhem.

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Hard Boiled Thursdays: Summer Fiction Series


An 11-week group convened with the
Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

Hard-boiled fiction and noir confirm capitalism’s violence with glaring facts, subtle twists of mind and plenty of broken bones and lives in between. Verbal sparring, physical clashes, between corrupt cops and the world-weary detectives, the calm façade smiling at the world concealing a maniacal murder machine, when distilled in a fast-paced pulp fiction or poetically narrated in a noir satisfy some of our needs to explain the violent social disorder thrown at us large and small by the contours of life lived by dictates of capital. These summer fictions we will read and discuss give voice to some of what we already know and shine light into the corners of stark realities these writers have taken on with twists and turns that surprise whether we are ready or not.

July 13
Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) uses truncated rhythms and a unique narrative structure to turn its account of a Hollywood dance marathon into an unforgettable evocation of social chaos and personal desperation.

July 20 and 27
The Big Clock (1946), an ingenious novel of pursuit and evasion by the poet Kenneth Fearing, is set by contrast in the dense and neurotic inner world of a giant publishing corporation under the thumb of a warped and murderous chief executive.

August 3 and 10
With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma.

August 17 and 24
In The Blunderer (1954), Patricia Highsmith tracks two men, strangers to each other, whose destinies become intertwined when one becomes obsessed with a crime committed by the other. Highsmith’s gimlet-eyed portrayals of failed marriages and deceptively congenial middle-class communities lend a sardonic edge to this tale of intrigue and ineptitude.

August 31 and September 7
Two teenagers fresh out of stir set their sights on what looks like easy money in Dolores Hitchens’ Fools’ Gold (1958) and get a painful education in how quickly and drastically a simple plan can spin out of control. The basis for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Band of Outsiders, Fools’ Gold is a sharply told tale distinguished by its nuanced portrait of a shelteredof young woman who becomes a reluctant accomplice and fugitive. This classic novel is one of eight works included in The Library of America’s two-volume edition Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman.

September 14 and 21
With its gritty realism, unrestrained violence and frequently outrageous humor, The Real Cool Killers (1959) is among the most powerful of Chester Himes’s series of novels about the Harlem detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.

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