Stranger Than Fiction: Philadelphia Noir

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Jan. 5, 2011

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In it, 15 writers—seasoned vets of the genre like Tafoya, Swiercznski and Gilman mix with newcomers like Laura Spagnoli and Halimah Marcus—to tackle different neighborhoods, painting a vivid picture of each.

“My belief with the Noir series, and given the really great response we’ve gotten so far in Philadelphia, the whole idea is you have to appeal to the people of the city itself. They are the judge and jury,” says Temple. “If the book feels authentic and it reflects in interesting ways on the city to the people who live there … it has more chance of success outside of that city. It’s real authentic flavor of the city by people who know it well.”

Philadelphia’s ever-growing noir community had been clamoring for a City Of Brotherly Love edition of the Akashic Noir for what seemed an eternity, and Temple admits the book was a longtime coming. But he had a specific person in mind he hoped to convince to edit and curate the book: Carlin Romano.

Problem was, Romano had made quite a name for himself bashing the genre while book critic for 25 years at the Inquirer, a “pointy-headed intellectual hostile to noir,” he says of his reputation. He’s even been invited to noir and mystery conferences to offer balance to panels. He was a hard sell on the hard-boiled.

“I’d approach him again and again,” says Temple. For two years, to be exact. Many of the conversations ending with Temple, as he recalls it, being asked “What the fuck are you thinking?” by a perplexed Romano.

In the end, he got his man.

“I was always an appreciator of superb literary noir—[Raymond] Chandler, [Dashiell] Hammett—all the people that are often noted,” says Romano. “But I also felt that there was a kind of new genre that had grown, which I call ‘factory noir.’ In other words, it had become an industry. You go into bookstores and the whole left wing is devoted to mass-market mysteries. That was really the part of the industry of the noir world I was hostile to. The fact that a lot of junk was being produced on the illusion that everyone who did one of these books was Raymond Chandler or Hammett. Or Goodis, because I think Goodis is genuinely literary and deserves the redemption, the resurrection of his reputation.”

With the release last year of Philadelphia Noir, Tafoya’s Wolves and the white-hot reputation of Swierczynski, Romano believes Philly-based noir is about to get its due props.

“Absolutely it is,” Romano says.

“I agree—cautiously,” says Swierczynski. “Like a Goodis protagonist, I think Philly crime writers do toil in obscurity a bit. Just like with everything else, we’re overshadowed by N.Y.C. and D.C. That said, I think some of the coolest stuff creeps out from obscure corners of the world, and I’ve really enjoyed what’s been creeping out of Philly lately. OK, I’m not going to dither, damnit. Philly noir is having a moment!”

This Sunday, the 9th, Lou Boxer and others will do what they’ve done since 2007. They will gather at Goodis’ grave at Roosevelt Memorial Park in Trevose at 11 a.m. and read from his work. Afterward, a tour of Goodis’ Philadelphia—his birthplace, his home in Logan, the hospital where he expired—and will wrap up at Port Richmond Books.

Quietly, slowly, other Philadelphians will begin to discover The Prince. Then, the world.

It’s already started. First-edition prints of Goodis’ work sell on eBay for as much as $1,600. They move like hot cakes at Gillespie’s Port Richmond Books. “They’re highly collectible,” he says. Shoot the Piano Player just started streaming on Netflix.

“I think it would be a wonderful thing if Goodis really came back strong for literature in general,” says Romano, “He’s a first-class writer. It would be great for the city.”

“I’m just glad Goodis seems to be enjoying more of a ‘moment’ now. My dream would be to have all of his novels in print. This will never happen, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Goodis’ novel become the ‘One Book, One Philadelphia’ read someday?” asks Swierczynski.

“This will never happen, but …”

Spoken like a a true Goodis fan.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 05:08PM

“I cannot wait for Sunday, January 9th to see the Goodis, the bad and the ugly!
David Goodis style!”

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2. Todd Mason said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 05:17PM

“THE SATURDAY EVENING POST was not a pulp magazine. Despite the deep desire of hipsters to make it so, pulp doesn't mean "trashy" or "transgressive," but instead it refers to a kind of fiction magazine that was printed on rough pulp paper. And while it tended toward adventure fiction, it was never restricted to that.

Would that Carlin Romano had only said foolish things about neo-nor over the years, but we haven't been so fortunate.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 07:57PM

“@Todd Mason

The piece doesn't say The Saturday Evening Post was a pulp magazine.”

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4. Todd Mason said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 09:35PM

“True. It does encourage misuse of "pulp" but doesn't actually call SEP a pulp..”

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5. leonard cobrin said... on Jan 5, 2011 at 09:38PM

“Excellent essay. Authentic. Congratulations.”

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6. Jay Gertzman said... on Jan 7, 2011 at 10:31PM

“This article is perhaps the best introductory essay to Goodis and his work. It covers all of the major themes and events in Goodis' work and life, and has many fine insights into a very complex person--and seeker after authenticity in his society.”

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7. william sherman said... on Jan 23, 2011 at 02:42AM

“Small correction to the article: I didn't ask to see David Goodis for a "story" but to negotiate the film rights to one of his novels. Also, Goodis' work was part of a chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation, and I wanted to include whatever he cared to say.”

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8. Adam Lounsbery said... on Apr 4, 2011 at 02:21PM

“"Fain a nosebleed"?

Who's copyediting the Philadelphia Weekly? A high school intern?”


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