by Christopher Moore

William Morrow


342pp/$27.99/April 2018


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Although many of Christopher Moore's novels have been set in San Francisco and have drawn on the city's history, Noir is set in an earlier version of the city. World War II has ended and the men are returning home, some of them broken. Women who worked in the shipyards and seeing their jobs going to the returning soldiers. People are trying to put their broken lives back together. And Moore brings his usual sense of humor and absurdity to everything.

Sammy is one of the broken ones, working as a bartender for Sal and nursing his injured foot. His friends are Eddie, a cab driver who refuses to get behind the wheel or a cab, "Moo Shoes," Sammy's tie to the massive San Francisco Chinese population, and Lone Jones, an African-American who refuses to accept society's role for him. His life may not be comfortable, but they all know their place in it as they just try to move on to the next day. Naturally, a woman, who Sammy calls Stilton, enters the scene, although she isn't what upsets their apple cart.

Sammy's world is turned upside down by Sal's rush to ingratiate himself with a visiting army general by providing him with prostitutes for a gathering of a secret society. Sal, naturally, turns the job over to Sammy. Sammy is also attempting to get rich quick by selling snake poison to the old men in Chinatown as a cure for impotence. Needless to say, neither plan goes off exactly as desired and Sammy finds himself in much more trouble than he could have anticipated.

As with most of Moore's novels, the humor of the book, and its ultimate success, comes from the cast of characters, all of whom are quirky and larger than life, and the absurdity of the situations they find themselves in. The child who has essentially adopted Sammy and argues definitions with him sets the stage for everything that follows. At the same time, Moore packs actuion into the novel, giving it more the feel of Hepburn and Grant's Bringing Up Baby than Bogart's The Maltese Falcon, but he manages to make that screwball comedy work on the page.

Moore has brought science fiction and fantasy elements into all of his works, and Noir, despite its strong historical fiction flavor, is no different. When the general introduces himself to Sammy by saying he is from a base in Roswell, New Mexico, the reader makes certain assumptions about what that means for the book, but Moore is not content to play to the reader's expectation and takes the story line in a completely unexpected direction.

Throughout the novel, Moore has you rooting for his characters, not just Sammy and Stilton, but Sammy's support crew. Even though Lone's goals are completely irrational, the reader wants him to retain his hope and somehow succeed. Eddie may be able to put his inability to drive behind him and Moo Shoes might be able to find the relationship that he is looking for. Moore's characters are real and speak to the reader.

Perhaps more than any other novel Moore has published, Noir provides an entry point for readers who haven't read his work because of the fantastic elements. Its cover and title cry out that it is a period detective story, which isn't entirely accurate, but Moore's writing is evocative of that genre while maintaining the voice Moore has brought to his prior novels.

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