If you’ve never read Christopher Moore, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. His books are hard to explain, funny but kind of warped at the same time (for instance, Lamb, a version of the Gospels narrated by Jesus’ childhood pal, Biff, or The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, or Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, or — a personal favorite of mine — The Stupidest Angel, a Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror). His latest book, Noir, reads like a Raymond Chandler novel as seen through the lens of Bugs Bunny. It’s set in 1947 San Francisco, and is populated by bartenders with dark secrets, corrupt police officers, generals trying to get into the exclusive Bohemian Grove, wisecracking beautiful women with secrets of their own, mysterious agents of some kind dressed in black suits and wearing sunglasses all the time, black mamba snakes and, of course, aliens.
If some of these things don’t sound as if they belong in a mystery novel, especially a noir mystery novel, that’s just because you don’t have the imagination Christopher Moore does. Trust me, when you read the book, everything works together in strange and bizarre, but ultimately pretty funny, ways.
The book starts with Sammy, a bartender in a seedy bar, also known as Sammy Two-Toes, who’s got a secret past his boss is holding over his head, discovering said boss dead in a back room of the bar, having been bitten by a black mamba snake that happened to be there because of Sammy. Oops. And then we go back to the beginning of the story, when Stilton, a gorgeous blonde, strolls into the bar and steals Sammy’s heart (as dames do in this kind of story), and a U.S. Air Force general enters the bar, looking for Sammy’s boss, to see if he can get some wholesome looking women to go to the Bohemian Grove with him, and of course his boss delegates this to Sammy.
Add in Sammy’s friend, Eddie Moo Shoo (not his real name, of course), and his uncle in Chinatown, add the corrupt cop, Pookie O’Hara, who’s looking for trouble and finds it, add in Myrtle, a friend of Stilton’s (a/k/a The Cheese), and Myrtle’s special cross-dressing girlfriend, and a slew of other strange and quirky characters, one narrator who’s not human, and an alien, and you have the makings of a very complicated and funny story.
Between money-making schemes involving venomous snakes, racist police officers getting what they have coming to them, flying saucers seen over the Pacific coast, bizarre rituals at retreats for the rich and powerful, and cross-country chases with an alien in tow, the plot twists and turns, the cast of characters increases and becomes increasingly odd, but Moore keeps all the balls in the air surprisingly well, and fills the book with wisecracks and atmosphere, leading to a satisfying ending (with an epilogue explaining how much of the book is based on actual facts).
For an entertaining jaunt through post war San Francisco with a somewhat warped point of view, check out Noir. Trench coat is optional.