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by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, eds.
Akashic Books, November 2014
256 pages
ISBN: 1617752916

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Since, as the editors of this collection remark, Belfast is the "noirest city on earth," (pedants might say "le plus noir," but never mind), it is surprising that it has taken so long for Belfast to enter the Akashic City Noir lists. But better late than never - BELFAST NOIR is well worth the wait.

Edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, the book is made up of fourteen stories, all by experienced writers who either live in Belfast or have a strong connection to the city. Four cities, in a sense, for the book is divided into four parts: CITY OF GHOSTS, CITY OF WALLS, CITY OF COMMERCE, and BRAVE NEW CITY. These divisions are intended to "capture the legacy of Belfast's recent past, its continuing challenges, and a guess or two at where the city might go in the future."

Readers who are unfamiliar with the first legacy are particularly advised to read McKinty & Neville's excellent and succinct introduction, which will go some way toward explaining the recollection of past history that infuses so many of the stories. The Good Friday Truce of 1998 may have resulted in a fragile armistice between Catholic and Protestant militant groups, but it could not erase the decades of violence that still fester in living memory. The first division of stories, by Brian McGilloway, Lucy Caldwell, Lee Child, and Ruth Dudley Edwards, deals expressly with the bitter refusal of the past to lie down and be forgotten. Most of them are marked by the sort of mordant humour that often accompanies this kind of rueful acknowledgment of past folly; all of them are exceptionally strong.

But the past crops up in the other sections as well. There's Glenn Patterson's account of a figure out of Belfast's punk past who's harboured a dangerous secret for twenty years and finally pays the price for it. There's a literal ghost from the past in Ian McDonald's "The Reservoir"; a final resolution in a thirty-year-old murder case in Steve Cavanagh's "The Grey"; and in Sam Millar's "Out of Time," a glancing reference to the Europa hotel, the "grand old building that had earned the unenviable sobriquet of the most bombed hotel in Europe." Attacked thirty-three times, Belfast residents refer to it as "that blasted hotel."

Only in Part IV can the historic past be said to have lifted its hold on the consciousness of the characters. "Corpse Flowers," by Eoin McNamee, is told exclusively through the very modern medium of CCTV footage and other video witness. (How would the bombers of the past have fared under the unblinking eye of the tv camera? They would, one suspects, have figured out how to make it blink.) But the urge to violence and to revenge persists in all three of the stories, most particularly in Alex Barclay's devastating "The Reveller," which concludes the set. If this is the direction the city is set to go in future, then it would seem that not only can it not escape the past, it is likely to replicate it in personal rather than political terms.

BELFAST NOIR is one of the strongest entries in Akashic's admirable City Noir series. Most of the entires conform, more or less, to any reasonable definition of "noir," and all are of exceptional quality. Anyone with a fondness for noir, an interest in the past, in contemporary Irish writing, or simply an appreciation of excellent prose should snap this one up.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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