Today's guest blog is by author Lev A.C. Rosen who is the author of the critically acclaimed All Men Of Genius (Tor, 2011), which was an Amazon Best of the Month, on over a dozen best of the year lists, and has been nominated for multiple awards. Locus described it as “mixing genres with fearless panache.” His work has been featured in Esopus and on various blogs including Tor.com. He lives in Manhattan.
“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.”
-Sam Spade at the end of The Maltese Falcon
Detectives in classic noir often have a partner of some sort. Not always an actual partner – sometimes it’s a friend on the force, or a lawyer—but there’s usually someone there the detective can talk to and feels a certain loyalty to. The Maltese Falcon is the most interesting example to me, because that partner gets killed early on, and the rest of the movie is Spade trying to find his killer. This despite the fact that Spade was sleeping with his wife. And when he finds that killer – a femme fatale he may have fallen for – he turns her in. This is one of the more fascinating relationships in noir – loyalty in some ways, but not others. The partner almost becomes a stand-in for the sort of code Spade is trying to live. The partner represents what it means to be a detective.
The way men interact with each other – whether partners or enemies – is the underlying fuel of noir. But when I set out to write Depth, I knew I wanted to explore those relationships differently – I wanted to see how it looked through women’s eyes. Not just a female detective in a world full of men. I wanted a detective and her partner and her enemies all to be women. I wanted to explore the way a noir world can be built not through male interactions, but through female ones.
Which isn’t to say, of course, that there are no men in the book. There are hommes fatales, a boy Friday or two. But my detective, Simone, spends a lot of the book dealing with women – whether they be gun-toting blondes or angry police chiefs, or, most especially, her partner, Caroline Khan.
Caroline is a politician – deputy mayor, specifically – who knows the workings of the city in and out – at least, the larger, legal ones. Simone, on the other hands, knows the underbelly of the city, the criminals, the cops. They’re both natives, and they’re both excellent in their fields – an impressive thing considering this is a New York City of the future, when the ice caps have melted and it’s just building tops and bridges.
The relationship I tried to build between them was one modeled on the idea of the noir partner. That is, someone you trust, but at the same time don’t quite. Someone you rely on, and that makes you nervous. Someone who has your back… which gives them ample opportunity to lodge a knife there. Caroline and Simone can’t tell each other everything about work because of their need for confidentiality. They know they do things differently and see the world differently, but they also know that they’re extremely close, and have a genuine friendship. On some level, this isn’t any different than your traditional male friendship in noir – they trade barbs, drink, check out women, and talk about how stupid other people are. They bounce ideas off each other. To one another, they represent the best parts of the city they live in. And there’s not many best parts left. But having the relationship be between two women makes it different. Usually, in noir, a woman is a solitary figure – she interacts with the (usually) male protagonist, but not many other people. Even Lauren Bacall, in my all time favorite film The Big Sleep, doesn’t spend much time on screen talking to anyone but Bogart – discounting the telephone scene, where she’s talking to someone else but she’s still talking at Marlowe. Women appear to interact with men. You still see this even in noir fiction with female detectives. Women appear, but usually only interact with the protagonist. A large part of this, of course, is because noir relies on a sense of isolation, on one-on-one interviews and interrogations. But men still seems to have more to do in these films and books. They seem to have more complex relationships with other men. Women don’t have relationships with other women. Not in noir. They’re even more isolated than the men. In The Big Sleep, for example, Vivian and Carmen are sisters, but never interact, even though to an extent, the whole story is about the lengths Vivian will go to protect her sister.
That trust/not-trust tightrope of noir friendship, though, can apply to any combination of sexes, so why is it so rare to see it between two women? And why did making female friendship so central to Depth make it feel different than other noirs? Is it just that noir –so often historical – is still a bit logged in the past? Is it just that a really noir woman is one who operates within a traditionally male sphere, and having more than one of those makes it seem less unusual, and so, possibly less noir? I think maybe it could be any number of those things, or some combination. But I also think that writing a noir world in which it’s the relationships between women that form a large part of the world feels more authentic. It’s something we should be seeing more of. And with a noir set in the future, I had no excuses. The idea of mystery being a primarily male sphere is something we’re in the midst of taking down, but in the future, it would be gone. And women-oriented noir has a lot of time to make up for. So I’d like to see a lot more of it – not just lady detectives, which have been around forever, or women’s friendships in more traditional mystery, but women interacting with other women in the noir world – women chasing women, women helping women, women partners, in any sense of the word. We’ve had enough bromance in noir. Let’s try something new.
More information about Lev Rosen can be found on his website, you can also find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @levacrosen and read his blog.
Depth combines hardboiled mystery and dystopian science fiction in a future where the rising ocean levels have left Manhattan twenty-one stories under water and cut off from the rest of the United States. But the city survives, and Simone Pierce is one of its best private investigators. Her latest case, running surveillance on a potentially unfaithful husband, was supposed to be easy. Then her target is murdered, and the search for his killer points Simone towards a secret from the past that can’t possibly be real—but that won’t stop the city’s most powerful men and women trying to acquire it for themselves, with Simone caught in the middle.
Depth is by Lev Rosen and is out now (Titan Books, £7.99)