August 22 – 28: “Are thrillers naturally noir?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Lynn Cahoon and Amy Stuart to discuss the question: Are thrillers naturally noir?




A Story to Kill book final compLynn Cahoon is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. Guidebook to Murder, book 1 of the series won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction in 2015. She’s also the author of the soon to be released, Cat Latimer series, with the first book, A STORY TO KILL, releasing in mass market paperback September 2016. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.



still mineAmy Stuart won the 2011 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers, and was a finalist for the 2012 Vanderbilt/Exile Award. She is a recent masters’ graduate from the University of British Columbia. Amy lives in Toronto with her husband and her three sons.






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  1. Hi there!

    I’ve never read a thriller that didn’t have a strong noir element to it. By definition “noir” films or novels have strong elements of not just death, but also cynicism; it’s the place where anti-heroes thrive. But I see it with a broader lens. To me, noir = human darkness, and the dark side of humanity is where the mystery lies. Thrillers require an inciting incident and it needs to be a troubling one. Someone is dead, someone has disappeared, that kind of thing. We might write cheery characters or funny scenes, but fundamentally, I think it’s impossible to write a thriller without veering sharply to the darkest corners.

    Very keen to see if others agree!


  2. Okay, so I’m going to respectfully disagree with Amy. (Hi Amy!)

    A thriller can and does deal with darkness, but I’m a firm believer that dark humor is what gets normal humans through the worse times. Why can’t a thriller be action pack, mysterious, without falling down the rabbit hole into Noir?

    Google – (my friend) defines thriller as – a novel, play, or movie with an exciting plot, typically involving crime or espionage.

    It doesn’t say dark.

    I guess I see Noir as a darker world. One where even the PI’s that work the cases are a little dead to the real world because of all the darkness they’ve encountered.

    I’m a bit of a Pollyanna in my real life as well as in my writing. I enjoy a good thrill ride, but I don’t want an ending where even if the bad guy is caught, the world is a little darker at the resolution. I want the world to feel a little safer, a little kinder, and a lot more bright. I do love my anti-heroes, especially when they are redeemed.


  3. When I hear “noir fiction” the writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett come to mind. The hard-boiled mysteries where the protagonist is beset by love, legal, and/or social problems and is in a no win situation. Murder is prevalent.
    My immediate reaction is, no, a thriller involves action with a strong protagonist who after many trials and setbacks, triumphs. However, I suppose that’s partly correct. It depends on upon what category thriller you have. Legal thrillers by Robert Dugoni or mysteries by Matt Coyle can fall into the category of thriller noir. A chilling example is Carla Norton’s mystery thriller Edge of Normal. That is really noir.
    Any author, whether they are writing a crime, legal, espionage, or military novel, can create a self-destructive protagonist and then guide him or her and the story into a noir abyss. It just depends how you shade the story.

    1. Hi Arthur,
      I totally agree. I’m just learning about how many different sub-categories of mystery there are as I’m trying to read across the genre. I have to say, I’m drawn to the less noir tales.

  4. Can I say I’m sort of happy we disagree? Makes for a better discussion! 🙂

    I think it depends on how specifically you define noir. I’m looking at a more expansive perspective, something that goes beyond the 1940s-50s film/novel definition. I love the idea of humor in our thrillers, but I think darkness is naturally there too. Maybe we need to stick to that more rigid definition of noir…

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