Friday, July 26, 2013

Bronx Noir

S.J. Rozan, Editor 
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Brand-new stories by: Thomas Adcock, Kevin Baker, Thomas Bentil, Lawrence Block, Jerome Charyn, Suzanne Chazin, Terrence Cheng, Ed Dee, Joanne Dobson, Robert Hughes, Marlon James, Sandra Kitt, Rita Laken, Miles Marshall Lewis, Pat Picciarelli, Abraham Rodriguez Jr., S.J. Rozan, Steven Torres, and Joe Wallace.

My Review

After reading Kemper's review of Kansas City Noir, I was intrigued by this series of books featuring stories that take place in different cities in the US. After exploring the Akashic Books site, I learned that there are quite a few interesting international locations too. So I decided to start with the Bronx, since that was where I spent much of my childhood, and I figured this would be a great opportunity to visit the city without actually having to drive there.

When I borrowed the book from the library and scanned the pages, the first thing I did was look at the author photos in the back and read their bios. Some are well-known writers, others not so much. I was thrilled at the diversity of the authors, much like the city I grew up in.  

The Bronx doesn’t disappoint. It is as grimy, unforgiving, noisy and rough as I remember it. The 70’s and 80’s were a particularly bad time to be there, with all the crime, poverty, graffiti, and burnt-out buildings. I’m really hoping the city has changed for the better and will find out this weekend when I visit my uncle in Riverdale. Somehow I can’t imagine that Mott Haven or Hunts Point have become desirable places to live; maybe in another 30 or 40 years. 

The stories were suitably bleak and moody, just as I would expect from a noir collection. There were some really terrific stories here. Others were rather forgettable. One of the standouts in this collection was Terrence Cheng’s Gold Mountain, about a Chinese delivery guy and the professor who gives him a good tip. It’s very dark, full of lonely, sad, desperate people looking for a better life. Having only known a few Chinese people when I was living in the Bronx, I appreciated this story told from a Chinese perspective. Think twice before letting someone deliver your supper. 

Kevin Baker’s Three Cheers Like Waves made me glad I never lived near Yankee Stadium. It was bad enough seeing and hearing the rumbling graffiti-covered trains while I was standing out on the fire escape of the 5-story red brick walk-up on Walton Avenue I called home. This is a story about young love gone wrong and loud baseball games that cover up a multitude of sins.  

S. J. Rozan’s Hothouse takes place at the Botanical Garden during freezing cold and blizzard conditions. The fragile lives of humans and plants are put to the test. This made me sad…and cold…and sympathetic to the bad guy. One of my favorites in this collection.  

R.J. Hughes A Visit to St. Nick’s reminded me of the church I used to go to with my friend and the white-haired Irish priest who’d give us each a little sip of Manischewitz wine after mass. This is about family relationships, friendship, the mysticism of the Catholic Church, boys who find creative places to store their stash, and the girls who know their dirty secrets.  

Patrick W. Picciarelli’s The Prince of Arthur Avenue was a most unusual gangster story.  

All in all, a very worthy collection of stories that brought back a lot of memories of my childhood in the Bronx. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska and wonder if there are any noir stories set in Fairbanks.

 Also posted at Goodreads.

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