"Noir" was going to be the "dark-streets" kind, Christopher Moore writes in his afterword, but what he ended up with was "Perky Noir." The author will have a reading April 18 at Elliott Bay Book Co.
Christopher Moore likes to end his novels with an afterword in which he traces the original idea back to its roots, explains how he twisted it into something completely different and provides a reading list. It’s all done in a chatty, disarming style, and Moore’s fans love it, the same way Stephen King’s fans love a “Dear Constant Reader” note from the master.
The afterword in “Noir,” Moore’s first novel in three years, is typical: He explores the setting (San Francisco in 1947, when the city was changing rapidly after World War II), specific locations (clubs in Chinatown and the Tenderloin that still exist) and characters (including a racist cop that legendary columnist Herb Caen wrote about).
Moore concludes his afterword with a discussion of the difference between hard-boiled detective fiction — think Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane — and what he calls the “dark-streets, desperate noir” of James M. Cain and Jim Thompson. (It’s a distinction without much of a difference, but never mind.) “Noir” was going to be the “dark-streets” kind, Moore writes, but what he ended up with was “Perky Noir,” something “a lot closer to Damon Runyon meets Bugs Bunny than Raymond Chandler meets Jim Thompson.”
There you have it: “Perky Noir.” Moore just invented a new genre and reviewed his own book. It’s the perfect two-word expression for a novel that starts out as a fairly straightforward yarn about a sad-sack bartender named Sammy whose world is rocked by a daffy waitress with a past. Before he knows it, Sammy is careening around San Francisco on one fool’s errand after another — finding fresh mice for a venomous viper, figuring out what to do with the corpse in the cooler, making sure a kidnapped cop stays strung out for a few more days and getting to the bottom of the mysterious sightings above Roswell, New Mexico.
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It all hangs together, just barely, if you don’t care too much about plot and structure. Moore sure doesn’t. He’s so casual he lets the snake take a turn at first-person narration and describe what it’s like to sink his fangs into a Chinatown shopkeeper. (In case you were wondering: “BITE! BITE! BITE!”)
Moore’s all about the zany and the zinger. He opens “Noir” with his version of Girl Walks Into a Bar: “She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size-eight dame in a size-six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and shimmy onto a bar stool with her back to the door.” The dame’s last name is Stilton, so everyone calls her the Cheese, which fits right in with Eddie Moo Shoes, Tony Cannelloni, Pookie O’Hara, Lone (short for Thelonious) Jones and a bunch of G-men named after characters from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Sometimes this House of Silly collapses on itself and sometimes it’s as solid as Alcatraz during an earthquake. That’s Perky Noir, and there’s only one place to find it.
“Noir” by Christopher Moore; Morrow; $27.99, 339 pp.
Christopher Moore will read from “Noir” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free; 206-624-6600, elliottbaybook.com. He will also appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free, 206-366-3316, thirdplacebooks.com.