Author Howard Norman's Latest Novel Is Steeped In The Noir Tradition

Jun 13, 2017

East Calais author Howard Norman's love of noir crime literature and film is clearly evident in his latest novel, My Darling Detective.

Norman, author of the 1994 National Book Award finalist The Bird Artist, spoke with Vermont Edition recently about his conscious use of the noir approach in the new book.

"I'm an aficionado of noirs," Norman says. "I watch noirs pretty persistently – especially the 'B' noirs, the less than iconic ones ... I love seeing the arc of these stories. And so I think in some ways it was inevitable for me to write this because I keep these noir notebooks for maybe 20 years, how people talk to each other. And watching noirs, in a sense you're eavesdropping in on not only a prior era, but a prior sensibility."

Howard Norman's newest novel is the noirish "My Darling Detective."
Credit Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Although My Darling Detective is set in the non-noirish Halifax, Nova Scotia of 1977, Norman has imported a faux radio drama – Detective Levy Detects – from the post-World War II era into the story to help generate the noir feel.

"I wrote whole scripts – like 30, 40, 50 pages of scripts ... just to get down to the synopsis of these things," Norman says. "So, it was rather obsessive. But I truly enjoyed it because I got to use all that noir language that I so savor."

While Norman says writing the radio scripts was "tremendously fun," they currently remain in his desk drawer, unsure if they'll ever see the light of day.

In addition to the radio drama, two other devices carry the reader through the plot of My Darling Detective. There's a tell-all novel written by a murder suspect and also the story behind the photograph Death on a Leipzig Balcony by Robert Capa.

Those three elements run through the novel in what Norman calls "kind of a symphonic construction." 

Listen to the interview above. Broadcast on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.