“It’s All One Case” is a book that any devotee of American detective fiction would kill for. For fans of Ross Macdonald, the finest American detective novelist of the 1950s and ’60s, it’s an absolute essential.
"It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives," by Kevin Avery and Paul Nelson (Fantagraphics)
First off, this huge album contains the transcript of 47 hours of talk between Kenneth Millar — Macdonald’s real name — and Rolling Stone reporter Paul Nelson. The conversations, which took place in 1976, were intended for an article that never got written. Soon after the interviews were over, Millar began to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and would never write another book. He died in 1983. Nelson’s life would gradually just fall apart. He died in 2006.
Largely because of Kevin Avery’s devotion and hard work this major work of mystery scholarship has finally appeared in print.
Yet there’s still another reason to covet this book — its pictures, hundreds of them. Virtually every page shows off Jeff Wong’s awe-inspiring collection of material relating to Millar.
First appeared in the NoirCon 2016 printed program on October 27, 2016)
Translated by Sam Betts
People always ask me why my novels are so dark. My standard response is that they’re dark because I am, but the reason for that goes back to who I was when I was young.
Things weren’t so great at home. When kids don’t have anyone to count on, their imaginations compensate, and they create imaginary guardians. This is when some people turn to faith, but Christianity never really caught on in Japan. The Buddhist beliefs of most Japanese don’t jibe with the monotheistic ideas of Christianity. If I’d been raised in the West, perhaps I would have been communing with a Christian God, but knowing nothing about Christianity, I created a god of my own. A god original to me, both product of my mind and its protector. In retrospect, he must have been my first creation.
My god was juvenile and fanciful. I called him the Game Master. My childish reasoning was that I was a player in the game of life, and he was there to run the game. Growing up, I was perpetually conscious of his presence. I was depressed for a kid, scared of strangers, and deeply introspective. If I hadn’t felt like there was someone watching over me, it would have been tough for me to cope. Day by day, he gave me the strength I needed to get by.
When I got to middle school, he disappeared. I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought I was too big to need a bodyguard, or maybe I was simply at the age when the mind starts to reject this kind of fantasy. My world was dark as ever, but to save myself from bullying I let on like I was happy. You could say I was performing to survive. I don’t see anything odd about this now, but back then I felt defective. When I’d made it to high school, something snapped, and I couldn’t bring myself to go.
It’s hard to say what pushed me over the edge. Maybe it was the uniforms. In most Japanese high schools, the students all wear the same two outfits. I couldn’t stand seeing everyone show up wearing the same clothes, at the same time, in the same place, for the same thing. There’s nothing strange about a school being full of people, but the sheer scope of their numbers paralyzed me.
I faked sick to get out of going. I was in the throes of puberty, and scared for who I was. I felt like I matched the description of every criminal on the news. Unsettling thoughts pulled my mind in dangerous directions.
But once I discovered reading, and the existence of dark novels, I realized I was not alone. I read voraciously and came into my own. I met characters as dark as me and knew that I would be okay. Peering into the darkness of these novels, I felt something shining back that renewed me. It’s strange to say, but the darkness almost felt like light.
In 1997, the year I started college, a boy of 14 decapitated a younger boy with mental disabilities, gouged out his eyes, slit open his mouth, and stuffed it with a letter to the world. The severed head was found at the front gate of the victim’s school. Because the names of juvenile offenders are protected in Japan, the teenager, following his arrest, was referred to as “Boy A.”
Boy A professed to having his own personal god, one to whom his barbarous acts were dedicated. I couldn’t help but remember the Game Master.
I lost my god before I entered puberty, or knew sexual desire, but Boy A held onto his god right through his sexual awakening. His atrocities even had the aspect of perversion. What would have become of me if I had brought the god of my dark childhood into the swampy realm of my pubescence? As a teenager, my sexuality was volatile. I felt capable of doing something terrible. What would have happened if the Game Master had accessed this turbulent sexual energy? He could have morphed into a dictator and forced me to commit unforgivable acts. The thought of it still gives me chills.
My books are dark because dark books saved me, and my books are full of crime because the criminal mind is not a place that I feel foreign. Rather than writing like a scholar and analyzing the criminal mind from a distance, I write my novels like a grownup teen who suspects that if he’d made just one mistake he would have ended up in jail. In Japan, my novels are seen as mainstream fiction, or maybe mainstream with a thriller twist, but in America they’re often categorized as noir. Regardless of the genre I’m assigned, I’m happy to be read. Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler are as grand to me as Dostoevsky and Fitzgerald. The same goes for David Goodis. My books aren’t noir simply out of taste. Noir made me who I am.
Two years ago, in 2014, I had the privilege of attending
NoirCon, the epicenter of all things noir, and the honor of receiving a Goodis
Award. It was one of the happiest events of my life. This recognition validated
my existence, all the way back to the dark days of my youth.
Japan is far away, making it hard to attend
every year, but I hope to go again someday, to take part in the conversations
and experiences that can only happen at NoirCon.
So allow me to sign off, from my desk in
far-off Tokyo, dreaming of the noirish airs of that long majestic weekend in
This quotation is one critic’s way of describing Goodis’ brand of noir. It’s also reminiscent of Kafka’s statement of some writers’ careers being their “suicide notes.” It seems an accurate description of most Goodis’ books, but especially his last, _Somebody’s Done For_, the suicide being a death-in-life, due to resignation and quiet despair.
Seymour Shubin began his career with the very successful _Anyone’s My Name_ in 1953. It’s about a reporter of true crime stories whose publishers want sensationalism. A typical one would be a murder of a crippled man who had seen the reporter in bed with a woman whom he was interviewing. The victim had power, therefore, to ruin the reporter’s career and marriage.
This is the true story of what had happened to the reporter himself. One reckless moment destroys his career. Shubin draws skillfully the unraveling, both in the police investigation, the revelation his wife suffers, and most importantly, the reporter’s growing understanding of what he had done, not only to his loving wife and the victim, but also to his readers, allowing them to view as a moment’s entertainment (Goodis described himself as a mere “entertainer”) an fatal, all-too-human instant where the protagonist becomes aware of how he had aided and abetted shallow scapegoating, and suffered harsh justice for doing so.. Mass man is carefully taught to mark the “perpetrator” as subhuman in a way that prevents human empathy.
Now, the reporter is the one scapegoated. The story is told first person. It is in a way (no spoilers I hope) his suicide note. Shubin pulls no punches, allowing the reader’s empathy to grow, and at the same time drawing out the tragic implications. The reporter becomes a noble loser – similar in self-awareness and fate to Eddie in _Down There_, Whitey in _Street of No Return_, Hart in _Black Friday_, and Chet Lawrence in _Street of the Lost_. And like them, he does not remain passive:
“I rose up on my toes and grasped the bars. Hello, Hello, all of you, do you hear me out there? Can you hear?” Not quite a suicide note. And maybe a cry to his own readers from Goodis himself.