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by Janine Armin and Nathaniel G Moore (editors)
Akashic Press, May 2008
300 pages
ISBN: 193335450X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There was a time, and that not so long ago, when coupling the words 'Toronto' and 'noir' in the same breath would have given rise to a round of eye-rolling and impolite sniggering. If there were a noir city in Canada, Montreal would certainly be it. But times and cities change and Toronto has been transformed from its good grey former self to the fifth largest city in North America, with a population of which almost 50 percent was born abroad.

So this latest in the Akashic series of City Noir anthologies makes a lot of sense, and a lot of good reading, too. Following the pattern of previous entries in this series, each story is set in a particular Toronto neighbourhood, from The Beaches in the east to the Humber River in the west.

The authors range from those who are well established crime fiction writers to some making their first foray into the genre. Almost every one of them spends a substantial part of the year in Toronto and can speak with an insider's knowledge of its streets and bars.

We begin with two very well-known authors not usually connected to Toronto. Gail Bowen is permanently associated with Saskatchewan, but she grew up in Toronto. Her story is set during a ten-day garbage strike - so much for Toronto the clean - and displays a surprisingly noir sensibility.

Say Peter Robinson and one thinks of Yorkshire, but he's lived in Toronto for many years. His story, Walking the Dog, about a jealous husband, an errant wife, and the mob, is very firmly set in that quirky end of Toronto, the Beaches, where dog walkers abound along the boardwalk and, very occasionally, a marriage ends in murder.

Andrew Pyper claims to live around the corner from where a sign is posted that implores, "Hobos! Please don't poo here!" So does the main character in his tale, who turns the tables on a peeping Tom by following him back to his home in a district where hobos would never think of relieving themselves.

The collection by no means neglects the multi-racial, multi-ethnic character of the new Toronto. Stories by Pasha Malla and Rayat Deonandan reflect in various ways how the experiences of the past intersect with the realities of this new country. As a character in Deonandan's Midnight Shift observes, "It's a city of immigrants, you know. Everyone's got secrets and stories from some faraway place." I do wish more of these stories might have made their way into this collection.

One of the most interesting stories in the anthology, Heather Birrell's Wanted Children, makes a different sort of point about the relationship between poor countries and rich Ontario. I can't say this one is noir, or even more than marginally crime fiction, but it is striking.

Taken all in all, this is a most successful anthology, with very few clinkers in the lot. The editors, who provide a lyrical introduction, are to be congratulated. Now let's hope Akashic's next foray across the border will be to Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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