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Friday, January 15, 2010

Boston Noir

Boston Noir is, by my count, the thirty-fourth book in a series of darkish short story collections set in major cities around the world. Each of the featured cities has distinct enough a personality to set a unique tone for its particular volume, even, at times becoming as much a character in the stories as the chief protagonists themselves.

This particular volume is home to eleven short stories, some of which have been written by authors already well known to genre readers and others by lesser known writers. Dennis Lehane contributes both the book’s introduction and a story entitled “Animal Rescue” about a seemingly simple man with an unexpected hard edge to him. Other contributors include: Stewart O’Nan, Lynne Heitman, Jim Fusilli, Patricia Powell and John Dufresne.

The stories have a tough, sometimes depressing, tone to them but they are kept lighter than they otherwise would have been by the bits of ironic humor that sneak into them when least expected. Even readers unfamiliar with the term “noir,” will be tempted to explore the collection after reading Lehane’s definition of what it takes to be a “noir hero” –
“In Shakespeare, tragic heroes fall from mountaintops; in noir, they fall from curbs. Tragic heroes die in a blaze of their own ill-advised conflation. Noir heroes die clutching fences or crumpled in trunks or, in the case of poor Eddie Coyle, they simply doze off drunkenly in a car and take one in the back of the head before they have a chance to wake up again. No wise words, no music swelling on the soundtrack.”
These are stories about white collar people who finally reach their breaking point; people who see an opportunity to stick it to the system and grab the chance to do so; people eager to profit from the deaths of others; hard people that suffer because of soft hearts; inept criminals who somehow manage to bluff their way through; and the worst kind of sex predator – something for everyone.

Stories collected from so many different writers will, of course, vary in quality, and those gathered in Boston Noir are no exception to that rule. What is rather unusual, unfortunately, is that the quality of these stories range all the way from very effective to almost incomprehensible, meaning that most readers are likely to consider Boston Noir to be, at best, an average collection of short stories.

Rated at: 3.0
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