Fiction: Dark & Light / John Hegenberger

Fiction: Dark & Light

by John Hegenberger

These days, there’s a heavy-weight emphasis on dark fiction. You can go to any number of “Noir at the Bar” events in major cities across the country. It’s as if the criminal element of popular fiction has won the battle against the dogged or clever detectives, and we all might as well lay down and die. It’s grim, gritty, occasionally gory, and heavy as sixteen tons. “Another day older and deeper in debt,” as the lyric goes.

Maybe it started with Jim Thompson. Perhaps it’s a mutation from Stephen King’s popular horrors. Or we can blame James Ellroy. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter.

Noir is only a sub-genre of mysteries, and not even that of fiction, itself. It’s the single black crayon in a rainbow box of Crayolas. Thus, a good story, more often than noir, can and should be based on the more colorful aspects of reality. Optically, black is the absence of all other colors; the opposite of light.

And what’s wrong with light? I like light. I like the Funhouse more than the Chamber of Horrors. I like Superman more than Batman. I like Arsene Lupin, Simon Templar, and Indiana Jones over Hannibal Lector or some soiled, addicted, vengeful ex-cop or ex-con. Let’s have a little fun in this house. Open the windows, switch on the lights. “Come on baby, light my fire!”

This is not some crazy pipe dream. Detective Stan Wade is a sort of realistic, self-deprecating, and average guy who is inspired to figure things out and help other people. Sure, he gets in over his head and there are dark moments in his life, but he doggedly goes on (with a lot of help from his friends) and cleverly finds the truth, justice, and the nostalgic 1950s version of the American way.

In those days, which you still can watch play out on multiple TV channels, everybody worried about Sputnik and the Bomb, smoked outstanding and mild cigarettes, loved Walt Disney, learned to surf and sing folk songs, watched color television and wide-screen westerns, drove finned gas-guzzlers while sneering at VW beetles, read trashy paperback books and gaudy ten-cent comics. Who does that today?

The Stan Wade stories are always bright and share a fondness for a time long gone too soon in a place that existed partly as a Hollywood fantasy and somewhat of a secret history of a hidden reality. Throughout it all, the tone is light, warm, yet much more jolting, bouncy, and dangerous than cozy fiction.

The events in Stan’s stories are, in fact, light enough that we can confidently and comfortably believe they actually might have happened; certainly could have happened; definitely, absolutely, positively should have happened . . . give or take a lie or two. Just remember, Stan’s #1 client is Uncle Walt, so his world and stories originate from “the happiest kingdom of them all.”

Nonetheless, I’m currently writing a short story to appear soon in a proposed anthology, “Columbus Noir.” Who does that? But a new Stan Wade book, Shortfalls, will be out this summer. So, light or dark, I’m buying the first round. Cheers!

Award-winning author, John Hegenberger has produced more than a dozen books since mid-2015, including several popular series: Stan Wade LAPI in 1959, Eliot Cross Columbus-based PI in 1988, and Tripleye, the first PI agency on Mars. His latest novel, The Pandora Block, is a high-tech, international thriller. Several of his short stories have appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine. His Stan Wade, LA PI novel, SPYFALL, won a 2016 Silver Falchion at Killer Nashville. Discover more at

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Thanks to Joseph Borden and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s editorial.