Short-Changing the Noir
The writing of my fifth novel, Small Change: A Casebook of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane (out December 11 through Roundfire Fiction), has meant a rediscovery of roots plundered in the very first novel I did, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.
And not just regarding long-winded titles.
No, I’m talking up the hardboiled stuff.
Not that I forgot – or set aside – my love for all things Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but with subsequent books I found myself determined to also push the envelope and explore other terrains.
The genre I prefer to call ‘noir’ – since it can then relate to film as well – lends itself nicely to being coaxed into a corner with a fistful of ulterior styles. I mixed it with dystopia and sci-fi in TSMG, decanted the brew into more surreal bents – verging on, dare I say, magical realism – with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth, while Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? matched noir up in a ring with pulp and the silver age of comics.
But I always did have a hankering for softer horror and a relatively offbeat sense of humour as well as budding detectives, and got to combine all three with Small Change.
Think P.I. influences ranging from Jim Rockford and Sam Spade colliding with a potpourri of investigators into the supernatural (Buffy, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, 1970s Australian series The Evil Touch, and some episodes of the original Twilight Zone and Outer Limits).
In between TSMG (2011) and this book, I re-read most of Chandler’s and Hammett’s back catalogue, furthermore getting insanely addicted to Ed Brubaker’s comic book body of work – things like Criminal, Fatale, Velvet, The Fade Out, and his lengthy runs on Captain America and Daredevil.
So the noir already weighed heavily again on my shoulders when I penned a short story in 2012 for the Pulp Ink 2 anthology, published in 2012 via Snubnose Press.
Our two protagonists were partners Roy Scherer and Suzie Miller: a bickering, odd-couple pair, up against a possible case of zombification.
Roy’s straight from the hardboiled school of detective fiction, a mix of Hammett’s boozy Nick Charles fused at the hip (flask) with Chandler’s world-weary Philip Marlowe.
Suzie comes across as young, naïve and silly – or is she?
The duo reappeared in a succession of shorts for other anthologies such as Weird Noir, Somewhere in the Shadows, The Condimental Op, and Crime Factory’s appropriately titled Horror Factory, as well as starring in their own comic book series (Tales to Admonish), with pitch-perfect artwork done by fellow Australians Matt Kyme and Adam Rose.
While I was penning these yarns, I started thinking a rough time-line of events in the back of my head, stretching over about 14 years – starting with Roy’s fall from grace in high school, his adoption by dubious dick Art Miller, and eventual linking up with Arthur’s daughter Suzie… in the business of dealing with a rogue’s gallery of fiends and bogeymen.
More than the monsters, however, remained the dynamics of these central relationships, including the comedy of errors that leads Roy to tear hair out even as he develops a grudging respect for his junior partner. The noir and the horror started to make room for their symbiotic collusion.
So it came to me that Roy and Suzie, even Art, needed their story to be told from start to finish, along the lines of the itinerary I had stuck in the recesses of my brain, and over the past year I put together Small Change in order to set some things straight.
It’s intentionally rough and ready, a time-hopping journey that can be as unorthodox as it is (I hope) funny. Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve spent as a writer have involved lumping Roy and Suzie together in the middle of odd-jobs involving insect typewriters, talking heads, and a vengeful Japanese ghost.
I’d go so far as to say that their journey is nowhere near completed – but let’s leave such notions open for the next casebook.
Small Change will be released by Roundfire Books on December 11, 2015.