At the opening of Noir, by Christopher Moore, Sammy Two-Toes is in deep trouble. He has just found his boss dead on the floor and learned that there’s a black mamba on the loose. Then the book takes us back to the beginning, when a gorgeous woman walks into the bar where Sammy works. Noirs always start with a dame, but in Christopher Moore’s hands, the standard noir setup quickly goes off the rails. Before long, Sammy is dealing with men in black, his hustling boss, his growing romance with Tilly, racist cops, and more. He does a lot more running around than one might expect from someone who’s lacking a few toes.
Sammy’s first problem is that it’s too easy to blackmail. Right around the end of the war, he punched a cop while he was drunk and escaped from a labor detail. Now two years later, in 1947, his boss, Sal, can get Sammy to run little errands for his schemes just by threatening to reveal Sammy’s real last name to the authorities. Sammy’s not a bad guy. He’s actually quite sweet once you get to know him, as Tilly learns and his very loyal friends know. But since Sammy wants to keep his easy, pays-just-enough-money job at the bar, he agrees to help Sal with his little schemes. Sammy’s second problem is that he has a knack for blundering into other people’s schemes without having a clue what’s going on. As things spiral out of control, Sammy barrels through to the other side because there really is no other way out.
Noir is packed with Moore’s trademark humor: plenty of word play; lots of inappropriate jokes, especially about sex; and piles of sheer goofiness. I laughed more than once at the ludicrous scenes Sammy landed in. That said, there’s a lot of ethnic humor, especially about Asians and Asian Americans, which may turn off some readers. I know this book is set in San Francisco in 1947, but it doesn’t have to be wall-to-wall jokes about how Asian people eat weird things and have mysterious and inscrutable ways. For me, Noir was entertaining until it made me cringe.
Even though I enjoyed parts of it, Noir is not Moore’s best. The plot is a great ride, but it lacks some of the heart I saw in Lamb and Coyote Blue. This is a great read for those looking for a screwball noir with a dash of science fiction, with just enough edge to keep the stakes high. Any readers who want a little depth with the humor or who don’t care for kind-of racist jokes about Asians can skip Noir and try some of Moore’s other books.