Lev AC Rosen’s new novel, Depth (published by Regan Arts), is a classic hardboiled mystery set in a future radically transformed by environmental catastrophe. Here, Lev explains how he hit upon that combination.
The Big Sleep is my favorite noir movie—of course, it has to be the 1946 version, which has more Bacall and Bogart scenes than the original version from the year before—that wasn’t actually released until much later. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of them: Laura, Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, The Blue Dahlia… maybe I love all of them. But The Big Sleep is my favorite.
A lot of people don’t understand why I’d be so into a movie that, frankly, makes very little sense, even less sense than the first cut. (Supposedly, not even Raymond Chandler was sure who killed the chauffeur.) But it makes perfect sense to me—it’s the style. The Big Sleep is dripping in noir style that you just don’t see anymore. The glamour of Lauren Bacall coming down the steps at night in her dressing gown, the gruesomeness of her sister’s disorder, the dirtiness of all the (unnamed, because of the Hayes Code) crimes Philip Marlowe uncovers—drugs, sexual coercion, abuse, blackmail. The scenes between Bogart and Bacall are fantastic—the telephone scene, or the moment in his office when he tells her to go ahead and scratch, or the talk about her sister, or my favorite, the horseracing conversation. Nothing really captures, for me, the feel of noir like that movie.
So when I set out to write my own hardboiled noir detective fiction, I knew I wanted that feel. I thought about writing something period, but it felt too familiar. I tried writing it in the present day, but it didn’t have the glamour or the grit I wanted. So I did something that I’ve been told was either a brilliant idea or a very bad one: I set my story in the future. I imagined a world where the ice caps have melted and all that’s left of New York City is the tops of buildings, with worn bridges and decommissioned boats floating between them. A city of flotsam.
This was a world where my detective, Simone Pierce, who I tried to write as a female Bogie, could have hard-boiled conversations with the cops and her clients. Where a body could just vanish by being rolled into the water, where crime could flourish and justice was a wisp you would try to snatch out of the air (and probably miss). This was a world, in short, that felt noir.
I know, I know, I know. “You got scifi in my noir!” “You got noir in my scifi!” Now no one will want to eat it. I heard that (well, maybe not exactly that, but some variation on it) over and over, along with the “no one will know how to sell this because these are two different types of readers” refrain from various publicity departments, though ultimately I did find an editor and publisher who found the world of Depth as enthralling as I did. I didn’t do market research when I created this world. But I knew the feeling of the thing I wanted to write and I found my way of getting there. And I ended up with my lone detective in a ruined world, trying to keep everything as together as it can be. It might be less then traditional, but I do genuinely look at Depth as a noir that just happens to take place at the end of the world. Because the end of the world is where I found my noir voice.
Lev AC Rosen is the author of the critically acclaimed All Men of Genius and the middle grade novel Woundabout. He received his BA from Oberlin College and his MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Lev is originally from lower Manhattan, and now lives in even lower Manhattan, right at the edge of the water, with his husband and a very small cat. You can find him online at LevACRosen.com.