Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Definitions of Noir Mystery

Noir mysteries sculpt imagery from the ice of vocabulary not the stone of definition. Stone is brittle, shaped only by tools. Mood alters ice as it weaves around characters while they struggle to live the plot without knowing their destinations or the consequences of their decisions.

Like the paralyzing sound of hurried footsteps cresting a hollow walkway echoing off water ten yards below, words whittle and change those decisions.

However, it is not enough to experience the crime, not enough to feel the fear or the cold clutch of victory when the bullet fired hits the target, not enough to listen to panting terror as the victim flees death discovering that death was the cold hand he felt clutching his neck and escape is impossible.

When sweat runs fingers down the spine the plot twists, tumbling, turning, the victim slams into facts, betrayal, and faces consequence. Circumstance develops as intent and the hero sinks deeper into a darkness that defines him as a man colliding with justice.

The touch of warm fingers sliding along the jaw, eyes closing, lips brushing, the tip of a knife under the chin, realization, a gasp of surprise, and justice is decided without the rule of law to delay conclusion.

Noir mysteries drip cold from page one. Mood is set, location chosen, a corpse is central to all that matters. Rage, revenge, love denied, the tenderness of moments, leak into hours of regret, racing to embrace renunciation.

We wade through the killer's bloody wrath, witness what the cop or PI sees, feel the grief permeating and miserable until the only relief possible may prove worse than the crime.

From Sunset Orange Water (copyright 2008):

I found a pull chain for an overhead light gave it a tug and felt pleased when a hundred watt bulb illuminated the space around me, and then felt something else, something dreadful when I examined the walls. Every wall held photos and newspaper clippings of murder victims, prostitutes according to the headlines. The oldest dated back to late ’45, the newest was the clipping for Lois. Alongside the news article--the only one not claiming the victim had been a prostitute--about her death, he’d taped a black and white photo of her that he must’ve taken moments before she died. She sat naked in the chair with her hands folded neatly on her lap holding a small black pistol like the one Dunbar handed me the day he came by my office to tell me the news about her death. The connection might’ve been tenuous, but felt like an unwelcome noose uncoiling in my head that locked onto and twisted my feelings for her.

Her beautiful skin showed no signs of a struggle. Blood had run from the corner of her mouth, but I saw no visible bruising. I wondered what he’d told her to effect her submission. However, Lois’ eyes looked wide with the horror she must have felt by his presence as she stared at the person behind the camera. Her stare gave me the feeling that she knew her attacker, and hadn’t anticipated the behavior he exhibited.

In a trained mind, rationality reaches through panic and angst, and guides thought beyond the obvious, the thread of temptation longing to dwell on pity, or the satisfaction of revenge.

The PI or cop feels deeper, like a man running the knife-edge of sanity knowing one slip will end the journey, not looking back, looking forward the distance of a single step only.

Noir is exhausting, exhilarating, daring, shocking, but always dark. The humor shows an ebony sheen those who love slapstick miss. The relief of conclusion is, to the PI, a page turned with more challenges ahead, one of which will eventually shred a piece from his life, again. Yet knowing this, he reloads, slips his handgun into the holster under his arm, and walks into the darkness daring impropriety to challenge him anew.

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