The best stuff in crime fiction these days is the latest from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, creators of Criminal, Fatale, and a host of other comic series. Their most recent venture for Image Comics is called The Fade Out. The story takes place in Hollywood during the film noir period, just after WWII and before the breakup of the so-called studio system. We mostly follow the adventures of a burned-out screenwriter who gets involved with an up and coming starlet only to wake up one morning after a serious bender to find her murdered. His search for her killer opens up dark secrets and threatens powerful people and he is terribly ill-equipped for the heat that comes down on him and his friends.
The third installment of the series arrived two days ago with my shipment from Ziesing Books, my favorite mom-and-pop outfit here in NorCal. (I strongly urge you to buy your books from Mark and Cindy Z, they answer the phone, do special orders, accept personal checks, and all that other stuff no one does any more.) It’s taken a year to get this far in the story as the three volumes are collections of the twelve monthly comic book issues. I have no idea how many more issues are planned but I know I’m hooked and will take it all the way to the end. Like other stuff from Mr. Brubaker it is multi-layered and weaves lots of threads together. You have to go back to earlier issues to keep it all straight! Like all the collaborations with Mr. Phillips the art is beautiful, always interesting and arresting. This series is colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser and her work is gorgeous and captures the mood of the story perfectly. Lies, deceit, murder, corruption, and perversion drip off the pages. You’ll never look at the movies the same way again.
If that’s not noir enough then come on over to another collaboration and another series, this one from Hard Case Crime. Irish writer Ken Bruen and American writer Jason Starr have penned three dark and twisted (but hilarious) novels about a small-timer with big ambitions called Bust, Slide, and The Max. The fourth and latest in the series just came out and is called Pimp. I expect it to be as thoroughly brilliant and equally disgusting as the previous three were.
Finishing out my order are the final two pieces of another series, this one from Ben H. Winters. A few years ago Quirk Books published The Last Policeman about a dutiful cop trying to stay on the job despite the fact that an asteroid will slam into the earth in six months and destroy all life. It’s a gripping read and the protagonist is a surprisingly likable sort, so I naturally had to find the final volumes. Countdown City and World of Trouble are on the shelf and will be tackled soon.
I like to read lots of things but the stuff categorized as “noir” or “crime fiction” (usually found under “mystery”) are some of my favorites. I think there is as much excellent fiction to be found within “genres” as in “mainstream” or “literary” categories. Good writing is good writing regardless of how it is packaged.
What sort of things are YOU reading these days? What’s on YOUR bookshelf?