Bernie pic

Bernie pic

Monday, 3 April 2017

Location in the ‘noir’ crime novel

Me at Pine Rivers Art Gallery, a fantastic place in all meanings of the word

I USUALLY don’t prepare anything for my book launches. I just wing it. But I did prepare a speech for the launch of Iraqi Icicle Third Edition at Pine Rivers Art Gallery on April 1. I even gave what was a verbal essay a title . . .

 Location in the ‘noir’ crime novel

I DESCRIBE my novel Iraqi Icicle, now in its third edition, as comedy crime.
Most of us have some idea what that means, more so than if I called it neo-noir.
     In style, Iraqi Icicle does trace back to the noir novels of early 20th century American writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Their works can also be accurately described as comedy crime but few critics describe them as such. Instead they are noir, the French word for black. Or they are hard-boiled detective novels.
     The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, the Hammett and Chandler classics are a lot tighter, and linear novels compared to my sometimes leisurely, sometimes frenetic narrative told out of chronological order.
     I did what Chandler said he and other hard-boiled detective writers – magazine writers he called himself and them – wanted to do.

“To exceed the limits of a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer.”

THE magazines Chandler was referring to were the pulp fiction ones that specialised in genres such as crime, westerns and adventure.
     The magazine which remains the most famous was Black Mask first published in 1920 and the one that first Hammett and then Chandler wrote for.
     There were a number of conventions in the formula created by Hammett and enthusiastically followed by Chandler.
     There was the private detective, a flawed, sharp-tongued, modern-day Don Quixote sparring against the windmills of greed, lust, corruption, and violence.
     There was the femme fatale, the deadly woman to which the detective was attracted, though never fatally. Thus the reader could be assured that another femme fatale was just around the corner where the next pulp novel was sold.
     Add assorted murderous or inept villains, and perennial losers caught up in a turbulent world they have zero control of and you have a potent formula for the noir novel.
     But another mix of ingredients was essential to the genre and that was the combination of time, place and ambiance which created the setting.
For Hammett it was San Francisco in the 1920s and for Chandler it was Los Angeles of the 1930s and 1940s.
Chandler described his LA world thus.

“A world in which gangsters rule a nation is not a fragrant world but it is the one you live in.”

The world the inhabitants of Iraqi Icicle live in is mainly Brisbane and the Gold Coast between the years 1986 and 1992.

I stuffed the money in my pockets and went out through the door. Shutting it behind me, I smiled towards Anita and rapped two fingers towards the ceiling.
‘You win?’ Anita smiled back.
     I dragged some money from a pocket and handed her $250.
     Two hundred, that’s all, no more,’ she said.
     ‘Take the fifty,’ I insisted. ‘Buy yourself some flowers.’
     ‘Why you don’t buy me flowers?’ mocked Anita.
     ‘Because they spray flowers with deadly substances to keep them alive even after they are dead.’
     ‘Do they? Oh, you only joke again.’
     ‘Buy some flowers, awlright, Anita? From me.’
     ‘Awlright, but you should laugh when you are joking. It’s not so funny in a foreign country.’
     Tell me about it, Anita, I thought

Every day I make my way
Through the streets of your town.

Remembering that Chandler wrote more sharply than I do, in The Little Sister his detective Phillip Marlowe says of L.A.

“I used to like this town.
“A long time ago.”

Chandler did sometimes change the names of L.A. locations but always in a manner that the reader could decipher what spaces he was referring to.
     Most Hammett biographers insist he was even more obsessive about his San Francisco geography though he lived there for only 10 years.
     The difference between San Francisco in the 1920s, LA in the 30s and Brisbane from 1986 to 1992 is that Brissie was and is part of the global village. So my novel deals with the technology we first imported in that period such as the Internet, mobile/ cell phones and CDs.


On a rectangular table beside the hi-fi were what looked like two portable televisions sitting on oversized videocassette recorders.
     These were Mick’s personal computers, which he used to analyse the form of racehorses. I had always pictured computers as great big metal cabinets, housed in government departments, corporations and universities. I had never understood how they worked, or what you did with them. What made the computers in front of us ‘personal’ I had no idea, and I didn’t ask, for fear Mick might try to show me what he did with them. They looked slightly menacing to me, the sort of complicated machine a stiff might spend his days labouring at.

Cell/ mobile phones

Mecklam’s eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened. He looked most keen to win on Saturday, and my talk of possible defeat irritated him. ‘You just find out what’s going on. Phone me on this number.’
     He hit a button on a device that looked like a portable pocket radio, only bigger. I figured it was one of those new mobile phones that business people had adopted as status symbols. A panel on the dog and bone lit up, and Mecklam wrote a funny-looking number down on a slip of paper and handed to me.
   ‘Make sure you’ve got a few dollar coins with you. Phoning this mobile from a public phone is a lot dearer than a local call.’
    The hide of the bloke, thinking I did not have one of those fancy mobile dog-and-bones myself. Of course, he was right – I’d heard they cost upwards of a grand. This gave me added incentive to dislike him.
Mecklam winked at me. ‘There could be a sling in it for you on Saturday night. Have a cup of coffee.’
     I poured the brew into the spare mug and added milk. Taking a hearty gulp, I found it was colder than lukewarm, just the way I hate it. I raised my mug in Mecklam’s direction.
     ‘Thanks,’ I said, gulping the repulsive mixture in one go.

My novel Iraqi Icicle also mentions the 1989 US invasion of Panama and the first Gulf Wat of January 1991.

THAT SAME DAY, of December 20 1989, 27,000 American troops invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause, to arrest that country’s President Manuel Noriega for drug and arms smuggling. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher applauded the American invasion, for upholding ‘the rule of democracy’. Only the cynics wondered if Mrs Thatcher was confusing ballistics with ballot boxes.
What sparked my interest in an otherwise routine U.S. invasion of a country they could wup purdy easy, was the use of rock music as psychological warfare. I suspect I was not the only shallow hedonist who forsook the music reviews for the world news pages at this time. I had to take a peek when I heard that Uncle Sam was shaking his booty.
I studied the form of the Noriega arrest with the Gooroo, who dubbed the invasion Operation Just Cause We Can. A lot of speculation about American motives for the stunt sprang up, as always happens with these adventures. The cynical money was on the treaty that said that the politically and financially strategic Panama Canal had to be handed over to a Panamanian girl or boy to play with by January 1, 1990. The landlord of the canal could charge a ship more than $100,000 for passage and the Americans had built most of it.
Most of the world never found out what was correct weight on the deal, as the Washington nobs reading from the full script were not giving the plot away. The stated reason for arresting Noriega – for drug trafficking – seemed a little thin, as the Americans had refused to take the naughty president from rebel members of the Panamanian Defence Forces when they had captured him in October. The Gooroo speculated that the planning of the invasion must have been well under way by then. The joint chiefs of staff were not going to have their big Christmas party upstaged by a few disgruntled nobodies in the Panamanian military. As for Manny’s cocaine smuggling, human rights abuses and election rigging? His form suggested it was no better nor worse than when he was a friend of the US, purportedly on their payroll to the tune of a hundred grand a year to spy on the bad guys in the area, such as the reds in Cuba, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

But let’s return to where I started and remember this is a comedy crime novel.

Yair, I knew you were American. I’m pretty good with accents. Just wondered if you might claim to be Canadian.’
     ‘Why would I want to do that? I’m proud of my heritage and I’m a graduate of the University of Queensland. I have as much right to teach here as anybody else.’
More than some, I thought, recalling a punter I knew – thirty-two year-old Bob Somers, who had bestowed a couple of education degrees on himself, after a few disappointing years in his previous chosen profession of pro gambling. At the start of term, I waved him away as the Sunlander train took him to a North Queensland teaching post.
Buddha knew what he had put himself down for instructing in. I did not ask. Bobby was never the brightest light on the Ferris wheel of life. He had stumbled into his previous job of professional punting because it took more guts than brains. He had never quite got on top of probability theory and had few connections with those in-the-know in the racing game, so he had survived longer as a pro gambler than most expected.
     All of us who knew him decided that inventing teaching qualifications was the cleverest move he had ever made by a street. While the odds were always in favour of him being exposed, a few North Queensland bookies and casino operators would celebrate Somers’ late and temporary entry into the academic ranks.

And that tells you all and nothing about my novel Iraqi Icicle.
In a little while, I will sign copies with any inscription you prefer.

Iraqi Icicle is available at

Or order at your local bookstore


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