The best gritty noir novels full of poetic lines, dirty realism, and dark humour

Who am I?

I am the author of the Black Viking and Hellbent Riffraff Thrillers and several volumes of dirty realism poetry. I am also the Founder and editor-in-chief of Bristol Noir, an indie publisher and ezine specialising in curiously dark fiction and crime noir. Since 2017 Bristol Noir has been publishing up-and-coming and best-selling authors from around the world. I’m a writer originally from Northumberland in Northern England. In the late 90s, I studied in Greater Manchester when the IRA bomb went off and during the infamous years of the Hacienda club. I now live in Bristol. I’ve devoted my writing to exploring my heritage and the environments I’ve been in.


I wrote...

Untethered: Dreams of Future Memories

By John Bowie,

Book cover of Untethered: Dreams of Future Memories

What is my book about?

In the spirit of Chinatown and Charles Bukowski, Untethered is a classic crime noir set in 90s Bristol, full of dirty realism and dark humour. Trapped in a witness protection program, a disturbed ex-SAS soldier searches for meaning at the bottom of many a glass. As madness takes hold, a series of cryptic messages arrive, pulling him into a web of deceit, destruction, and disillusionment.

"Noir fans will find a lot to like." Publishers Weekly / Booklife "Its pages are packed full of deceit, human depravity and surprisingly dark humour."STORGY Magazine

The books I picked & why

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Pulp

By Charles Bukowski,

Book cover of Pulp

Why this book?

This is the dirty realist poet, Charles Bukowski's, last novel and is filled with intriguing code and name-dropping of people he knew and was influenced by. As well as being as poetic as hell. Pulp also gives a glimpse of what it might have been like if Bukowski had lived on and ventured fully into crime fiction or pulp noir.

I love the book’s surface-level simplicity to draw you into its world. However, it then subversively lets bigger themes creep in: including surrealism and spiritualism, as the author faces his own death. All this with Bukowski’s deftly poetic touches.

This showed me how semi-autobiographical elements can fuse and influence fiction and vice versa. And, that it doesn't have to be hard to absorb or distract from the story. By acknowledging layers in writing which are there for those who want to peel back and discover them. And when they don’t, these layers form a deep and vivid backdrop to the story and invite the reader back for a re-read.

Pulp

By Charles Bukowski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pulp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charles Bukowski's brilliant, fantastical pastiche of a detective story. Packed with wit, invention and Bukowski's trademark lowlife adventures, it is the final novel of one of the most enjoyable and influential cult writers of the last century.

Nicky Belane, private detective and career alcoholic, is a troubled man. He is plagued not just by broads, booze, lack of cash and a raging ego, but also by the surreal jobs he's been hired to do. Not only has been hired to track down French classical author Celine - who's meant to be dead - but he's also supposed to find the…


I Was Dora Suarez

By Derek Raymond,

Book cover of I Was Dora Suarez

Why this book?

Derek Raymond’s 4th book in his Factory Series is sublimely dark and poetic. It’s brit-grit with an industrial, dirty backdrop and hard feel. Some lines are funny in their harshness with a cliched bad PI turned up to max.

This is a British hard-boiled, hard-drinking, and damaged detective with all the atmosphere of a French noir clashing with Ted Lewis’ Get Carter.

I Was Dora Suarez is a prime example of brit-noir with a flawed protagonist chasing clues and signs in an equally damaged world. Despite the bleakness of the characters and situations it’s impossible not to be gripped and have your face thrust against the glass to see.

I Was Dora Suarez

By Derek Raymond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Was Dora Suarez as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An axe-wielding psychopath carves young Dora Suarez into pieces and smashes the head of Suarez's friend, an elderly woman. On the same night, in the West End, a firearm blows the top off the head of Felix Roatta, part-owner of the seedy Parallel Club. The unnamed narrator, a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police's Unexplained Deaths division, develops a fixation on the young woman whose murder he investigates. And he discovers that Suarez's death is even more bizarre than suspected: the murderer ate bits of flesh from Suarez's corpse and ejaculated against her thigh. Autopsy results compound the puzzle: Suarez was…


The Music of Chance

By Paul Auster,

Book cover of The Music of Chance

Why this book?

This is Auster exploring all the themes he’s well known for now, and crafting them into a beautifully absurd almost surreal tale. Not strictly a noir book this has a protagonist struggling with his place in the world and his identity, whilst getting drawn into situations out of their control—all tropes which are seminal to the genre. 

Auster’s first book released under the pseudonym Paul Benjamin, called Squeeze Play, is a more typical crime, or pulp noir. And it's easy to see his blend into literary fiction whilst holding the noir handles close for The Music of Chance.

Often writers start out literary then a genre attaches itself. Here, Auster appears to have hit big by penning a commercially aimed work, then shifting back to where his core themes ring out.

I’m a huge fan of these themes he’s so good at; stories within stories, back-tales of characters, and existential overlaps between these roles; involving the author and reader in this word-play as well as a profound search for identity throughout.

In The Music of Chance, I found enthusiasm for drawing readers into absurd and surreal sidelines that eventually become attuned to, or evolve into the defining theme. Similar to David Lynch’s work, this is genius in that it doesn’t always strive to make sense, as real life rarely does, but it always entertains and feels more creative and authentic for it.

The Music of Chance

By Paul Auster,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Music of Chance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nashe comes into an inheritance and decides to pursue a life of freedom. He meets Pozzi, a gambler, who exerts a terrible fascination over, him and together they take a desperate gamble. By the author of "The New York Trilogy", "Moon Palace" and "The Invention of Solitude".


Drive

By James Sallis,

Book cover of Drive

Why this book?

This is angry, savage, beautifully poetic, and uncomfortably real crime fiction.

Sallis writes like a master blues or jazz musician with deft control over what notes not to play, as much as which to let shout out…creating tensions, succinct phrasing, and beautifully rich and condensed narratives and characters.

I’ve learned a lot from Sallis’ books and the translation onto the screen of this one in particular. They're a masterclass of modern neo-noir.

Drive

By James Sallis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there'd be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping toward him, the pressure of dawn's late light at windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room....'

Thus begins Drive, a new novella by James Sallis.…


Say Goodbye When I'm Gone

By Stephen J. Golds,

Book cover of Say Goodbye When I'm Gone

Why this book?

Stephen J. Golds is a prolific powerhouse of dirty realist poetry and gritty modern crime fiction. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a number of projects now and admire his mind and words greatly. 

Say Goodbye When I’m Gone is a breakthrough work of art for someone well-studied in his craft. It’s punchy, atmospheric, and brutal…but also, so sensitively poetic and soulful.

Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, and his other books generally, are prime examples of how a masterwork doesn’t have to be a doorstop in page length. Like The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, these gems of noir fiction are often in novella format. Soulful, concise, sharp, and lean. Like the best poetry, which Golds happens to be unsurprisingly masterful with too.

Say Goodbye When I'm Gone

By Stephen J. Golds,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Say Goodbye When I'm Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1949: Rudy, A Jewish New Yorker snatches a briefcase of cash from a dead man in Los Angeles and runs away from his old life, into the arms of the Boston mob.

1966: Hinako, a young Japanese girl runs away from what she thought was the suffocating conformity of a life in Japan. Aiming to make a fresh start in America, she falls into the grip of a Hawaiian gang dubbed 'The Company'.

1967: Rudy and Hinako's lives collide in the city of Honolulu, where there is nowhere left for either of them to run, and only blood to redeem…


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