Vancouver Noir

Vancouver Noir

Posted on August 8 by Sam Wiebe
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

Browse the mystery section of your local bookstore, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t have a subtitle of the “A [Detective’s Name] Investigation” variety. Whether it’s a Rebus novel or a Miss Marple mystery, the common thread and selling point of the series is the stability of the main character. It’s a reassurance to the readers that nothing will really happen to them.



LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS is a bit different. In essence, it’s a book about an iconoclastic private eye named Michael Drayton who’s charged with finding the son of a local junk dealer. The case changes Mike; it’s a crucible which overturns his world, challenges his values, and alters him completely. Calling the book “A Mike Drayton Investigation” seemed wrong. This is THE Michael Drayton investigation. As Willard says in Apocalypse Now, “I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.” 

So casting about, I decided on Vancouver Noir as an appropriate subtitle. I was lucky enough to be born here. Luckier still, during adolescence my family moved away. When I returned to the city as an adult, I had the absolute joy of rediscovering Vancouver anew. I won’t go full-out pretentious and call Vancouver the main character of my novel, but the city informs what I write. In some ways, LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS is a rain-soaked, coffee-stained love letter to the city. And it’s also an admonishment.

For the most part, the characters of the novel aren’t nine-to-five-ers. They’re people who’ve carved a niche for themselves, whether through buying and selling used goods, engineering hit records, breaking the law, or running a private detective agency out of a run-down, unfurnished office building. They’re people trying to stay afloat. That’s becoming more and more difficult as the city, its unspoken rules and economies, change.

And here’s where Noir comes in. The term encompasses everything from the guns-a-blazing ultraviolence of Sin City to the cynical character study of In a Lonely Place. Noir is an atmosphere and an approach. It’s light and shade. At its best, I think, it’s an honest accounting of things. A reckoning.

That honesty is what each character in LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS struggles to live with. As the city changes, as the box tightens, it becomes difficult to dictate the terms of our lives, maybe impossible. But Gilgamesh walked through a world of darkness, and Raymond Chandler sent his heroes down mean streets. Sometimes the darkness can be a comfort--and in any case, it’s what awaits.

 

Sam Wiebe

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
Sam Wiebe photo

Sam Wiebe

Sam Wiebe's Last of the Independents won an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Novel. His prize-winning crime fiction has been published internationally. Recent projects include audio adaptations of Hamlet and Frankenstein, an independent film script, and a follow-up novel. He lives in Vancouver.