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May 01, 2006



For "comic noir" it's hard to beat Hugh Laurie's The Gunseller. I remember it as a note-perfect riff on everything macho and detective-y. I wish he'd drop Dr. Disease-of-the-Week and write more of these.

Every week should be Jeff Ford week.

Kelly Link

Jen Banbury's Like a Hole in the Head is one of my favorite mysteries. Very noir, very funny.

I have a question for Jeff Ford. All of your books are recognizably books by Jeff Ford, and yet I'd be hard-pressed to stick them all into one tidy genre category. What was the starting place for The Girl in the Glass?

And here's a question that's for everyone: is there a particular theme or subject that shows up repeatedly in Ford's fiction?

I also want to go on record recommending Ford's short fiction. A good starting place: the novella, "Botch Town", which appears in the new collection.


The Banbury is an excellent suggestion; I love that book.


Looking at themes in Ford's work, I see the perversion of science return again and again. In the Girl in the Glass, Ford points out the workings of the Eugenics Records Office and the even more twisted work of the villain of the story.

But the theme goes back to Scarfinati in Ford's first novel, "Vanitas," who turns his near magical control of machinery to extending his life, and Drachton Below in the Well-Built City trilogy who creates a whole near fascist society based on physiognomy and drugs.

(Sidepoint on that one: there's a blurb on those books that mentions Ford's "anti-science views" but that seems wrongheaded to me. Ford appears (to me) to be more interested in opposing the unethical uses of science, rather than opposing science as a whole. Case in point, Secmatte in the short story "Weight of Words" is so unaware of ethics, he doesn't see how it is abused. and when he does, his solution may be worse.)

In one of my favorite of his short stories, "Creation," the same issue appears in a story that has more to do with a young boy's first experiences with religion. The story becomes almost a fable version of "Frankenstein," in which the monster can only be stopped by the creator taking responsibility for his actions.

By no means is this Ford's only theme. It's completely absent from many stories and possibly "The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" (though I've forgotten too much of it to be sure). In fact, there are probably stronger themes about fatherhood, storytelling, and the magic of the everyday, but I've become very aware of the science theme lately.

Jeff Ford

Kassia: Thanks for posting. Yeah, one of the things about doing a noir type novel is that you get to do gun battles. Not only do you get to do them, you're more or less required to do them. And that's cool. You get to become a choreographer in your mind -- Peckinpaw and Roy Hill and Leone all rolled into one. It really was a blast (no pun intended). I've always said that was the main difference between a lot of my earlier stories and those of Kafka -- In Kafka, his characters don't do much running -- my characters shoot, smoke, drink, fight and run like hell. They run their asses off.

Gavin: Watch what you wish for. Ask Lynn what it's like when it's Jeff Ford day everyday. Comic/Noir but by noon of the second day the Comic takes one the hard way and winds up doing the float and bloat in the neighbors swimming pool.

Kelly: I was supposed to be writing Botch Town as a novel, which I am going to do finally this summer. But I got to the point where I had to extricate the character of my little sister. I knew it was the right move to make as far as the book went, but I felt a personal dedication to her and didn't want to continue writing the novel I'd been writing. She'd been born with a hole in her heart and was, when we were kids, very weak, and I always watched out for her. Her story, though, wasn't the story I was telling in Botch Town -- it would have been a tangential diversion that really needed to be told itself someday, but still I didn't want to leave her out. So I stopped writing that and wrote Girl in the Glass. A book where a young girl dies and a first person character goes on to tell his coming of age story. I'm sure there were a million other reasons, but that was one of them.

Brian: I'm, in fact, a big Science fan and read a number of Sceince magazines a month. I love the way ideas in Science can be used as metaphors for the tribulations of people. It's nothing completely planned out, but when it happens -- it's a nice effect. And thank you for saying that when those critics said I was anti-science, I was just down on the mis-application of Science as I am now when it is mis-used. For instance the application of computer technology by the NSA to spy on US citizens, etc. One time a friend of mine who worked in a lab at the Vet Center at UPenn. She walked into her office and someone had left a dead monkey on her desk. She screamed and a guy came running and apologized for leaving the monkey there and then asked her, "What's the matter, don't you like monkeys?" That's about the same thing with me and science if you catch my drift.


I'm not sure THE LAST GOOD KISS qualifies as 'comic noir'. Sure, it's funny as hell but it can be so visceral at times that I think the latter trumps the former. But a great example of what you mean (espec since Jen Banbury's been cited, where o where is her next book???) is Chris Niles' HELL'S KITCHEN, as well as her subsequent books, VANISHED & GRACE FALCO (only available in the UK). Talk about noir as social satire, with lots of cliche-busting.


Jeff: I always thought that blurb was odd, since it was sort of backhandedly criticizing you. Yet, it's on every one of the Well-Built City books, if I'm not mistaken. There was no better quote from that article?

I knew you couldn't be that down on science, since any "magic" in your books tends to be the scientific method bent in ways it doesn't bend in real life.

jeff ford

Sarah: Hi. You're probably right about The Last Good Kiss. It's never the same kind of "comic" as The Thin Man. I defer to your knowledge of the field. I'm just not well read enough in it. What I have noticed, though, with the more I've read, is how many different types of Mysteries there are and how the Mystery inflitrates all genres as the Fantastic also can. Thanks.

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