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A Chicago book that holds special meaning to me

Barry Jung

You do not easily forget an author whose subject matter and style helped to define a genre in both the literary and film worlds, that of crime noir. I discovered Chicagoan Kenneth Fearing many years ago through his signature work, The Big Clock. He is little known today but he captured and masterfully recorded that somber, cynical, depressive post-war atmosphere he shared with contemporaries such as Cornell Woolrich (Rendezvous in Black), Dorothy Hughes (In A Lonely Place), and Graham Greene (The Third Man), especially in the period 1944-55. Fearing was my introduction to this dark, bleak world where chance encounters with dangerous strangers (women as well as men) were likely to have a deadly outcome, a world in which double-crossing, lying, and cheating were considered necessary inter-personal and business skills. Forgotten authors who can take you in a new, surprising, and unexpected direction through a single book deserve a first reading by a new generation. Crime noir is of course still being written today, and very well indeed, by such authors as Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane and many others. However, it would be more entertaining, I think, to have a go with some of the early genre masters and then to compare styles and themes with the current practitioners. You will notice that I haven’t actually told you anything about The Big Clock. I leave that noir door for you to open, forewarned and leaving behind all wide-eyed innocence and any hope for better days ahead. A genre for our times.

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