Belfast Noir is just the latest in the wonderful series of short story collections from Akashic Books that I first discovered back in 2010. Each collection contains fourteen or fifteen stories that fit comfortably in the genre of noir crime fiction. And, because each of the stories is written by someone from (or very familiar with) the city or region in which all of the stories are set, the collections are long on setting and mood. I have already read and enjoyed Boston Noir, Mexico City Noir, Long Island Noir, Manila Noir, and Prison Noir and am happy to report that Belfast Noir equals the high standards set by its predecessors.
This time around, the book’s fourteen stories are divided into four sections: “City of Ghosts,” “City of Walls,” “City of Commerce,” and “Brave New City.” According to the book’s introduction, the sections represent “Belfast’s recent past, its continuing challenges, and a guess or two at where the city might go in the future.” Fittingly, I suppose, of my four favorite stories in the collection, one of them comes from each of the four sections of the book.
From the book’s first section, I particularly enjoyed Lee Child’s “Wet with Rain,” a story about a CIA agent who comes to Belfast to clean up a potentially embarrassing situation before someone stumbles upon it. Child, probably the best known of the book’s fourteen authors, comes to the collection via his Belfast-born father.
I have chosen from the “City of Walls” section, Ian McDonald’s eerie ghost story “The Reservoir.” In this one, a man surprises everyone by showing up at his daughter’s wedding, but as it turns out, he is there for all the wrong reasons. Author McDonald lives in Belfast.
Another favorite, Steve Cavanagh’s “The Grey,” is the first story in the “City of Commerce” section of Belfast Noir. “The Grey” is a very fine courtroom procedural in which a thirty-year-old murder cases is reopened because someone finally decides to use DNA identification technology to identify a drop of blood found near the victim’s body. Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast.
And, finally, there is Arlene Hunt’s “Pure Game,” one of the three stories in the book’s “Brave New City” section. This is a hard-hitting story about dog fighting rings and those who inhabit that brutal world. At the risk of tipping the story’s hand, I have to say that it probably has the most satisfying ending of any in the collection. Author Hunt now lives in Dublin but, I am assuming, has ties to Belfast and Northern Ireland.
The remaining ten stories in the collection are by: Lucy Caldwell, Brian McGilloway, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Gerard Brennan, Glenn Patterson, Claire McGowan, Sam Millar, Eoin McNamee, Garbhan Downey, and Alex Barclay.