Special Section

Dark and Stormy Night

Noir never goes out of style. For a century, it has defined an American ethos in which goodness most often remains unrewarded and justice is capricious if it is served at all. It’s a vernacular art, framed by the voices of the losers and those who stand outside the law. This is only as it should be, for the genre was never meant to stick around. Noir was originally published in pulp magazines or as dime-store paperback originals, and its longevity is a testament to its tenacity—everyone’s most necessary survival skill.

To live, after all, is to know the deck is stacked against you. To live is to understand that you and those you love will suffer and that one day everyone will die. Noir doesn’t sugarcoat this or tell us pretty lies and stories. Noir reflects our condition unadorned. Its stories are bleak and elemental; they speak to us because we recognize ourselves in them. Especially in a moment such as this one, when we are all living, in one way or another, on the edge of oblivion, could any genre or worldview resonate more deeply or be more appropriate and profound?

    San Francisco–based private investigator Jack Palladino.
    PENNI GLADSTONE
    WHODUNIT

    The Last of the Old-School Private Eyes

    For nearly 50 years, a tight-knit group of San Francisco private eyes—intellectual, swashbuckling, anti-authority lefties—practiced their craft in the pursuit of truth and, hopefully, justice.

    Colleen Eckvahl, host of the biweekly podcast Misconduct.
    GREGG SEGAL
    LISTEN CLOSELY

    The Rise of the True-Crime Podcast

    Millions in revenue, fan art, and live touring shows: true-crime series are a thriving corner of the podcast world. 

    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Eight True-Crime Podcasts to Download Right Now

    Denise Hamilton breaks down the best series, hosts, and subjects in this wildly popular genre. 

    Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, is one of the genre’s most well-known writers.
    BOOK ’EM

    The Journey of the Antihero

    Often characterized by desperation and darkness, noir has evoked California’s culture of disruption for 100 years.

    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Eight Noir Books That Nail the Genre

    Alta books editor David L. Ulin selects a collection of must-read (and reread) titles for every noir fan. 

    Raymond Chandler "Farewell My Lovely"
    MARK SMITH
    LADY PROBLEMS

    What If Philip Marlowe Fell in Love?

    What is it about author Raymond Chandler’s famous fictional detective and female foils? A biographer reimagines his legacy.

    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Four Books in the Tradition of Chandler

    Can’t get enough of Raymond Chandler’s L.A.? His biographer Judith Freeman names titles that keep the mood—and the murder—going. 

    The Plagues by Steph Cha
    DAVID PALUMBO
    SHORT STORY

    The Plagues

    In this short story from author Steph Cha, a pregnant woman and her husband struggle to feel safe with riots outside and a gun in the house.

    Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.
    PARAMOUNT PICTURES
    NOSE JOB

    When Films Were Kings

    Born of nostalgia, Chinatown today inspires a nostalgia of its own: for a Hollywood driven by creativity.

    Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).
    UNITED ARCHIVES
    SCREENS

    California Schemin’

    A trio of neglected neo-noir films reveal the dark side of the California dream.

    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Eight Great California Film Noirs

    Eddie Muller, one of the world’s foremost experts on noir, picks Golden State classics to add to your watch list. 

    "Prison Made Me a Screenwriter!"
    JOHN MATTOS
    JAIL TALES

    Prison Made Me a Screenwriter!

    In the 1920s and 1930s, Ernest Granville Booth made a name for himself as a criminal and as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after writers.

    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Five Great Prison Noirs

    The jig is up—you love film noir. Watch these classics with someone who’ll serve as a credible alibi. 

    Attica Locke is the author of Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home.
    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Attica Locke Makes Her Movie Case

    The mystery author explains why A Soldier’s Story is her favorite whodunit. 

    Tod Goldberg is the author of the upcoming book The Low Desert: Gangster Stories.
    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    The Killer Inside Tod Goldberg

    The author and Alta contributor picks Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me as his top noir classic. 

    Naomi Hirahara is the author of Iced in Paradise: A Leilani Santiago Hawai‘i Mystery.
    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Naomi Hirahara’s Favorite Noir Story

    The Edgar Award–winning mystery writer takes a stab at a classic.

    Gary Phillips is the author of Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem.
    HARD-BOILED FAVORITES

    Gary Phillips’s Favorite Noir

    The prolific novelist explains why, just like the beat of a great film score, he can’t shake Fast One

    CONTEST

    Alta’s Noir Story Contest

    Summon your inner Dashiell Hammett and write your own pulp fiction—using five elements supplied by us.

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