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by Patricia Smith, ed.
Akashic, November 2012
288 pages
ISBN: 1617751294

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One online dictionary defines the noir genre as "crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings," going on to add it is "suggestive of danger or violence." I grew up on Staten Island, and found it to be boring and insular. Yet the fourteen short stories in the collection STATEN ISLAND NOIR, edited by Patricia Smith and featuring some well-known and intriguing authors, all take place in my home borough and definitely fit the book's title. Besides having definite "noir" characteristics, each story is pegged to a certain location on Staten Island—a map at the front positions the scene, and sense of place is well developed.

The compilation begins with a section called "Family Affairs." In the story "Snake Hill," award-winning author Bill Loehfelm writes about two brothers whose careless car accident turns into a murderous secret. Then novelist Louisa Ermelino takes us to Great Kills, where her story "Sister-in-Law" leaves us with cold chills, as we understand an ending that is not completely spelled out. In Part II, called "Fight or Flight," Michael Largo's story "Paying the Tab" gives us a title with a double meaning that only becomes clear at the story's end. In "Assistant Professor Lodge," the narrator's reality becomes more mysterious in the conclusion. Set at Wagner College, this author, Binnie Kirshenbaum, beautifully captures the essence of the old institution.

We meet many characters who are amoral and in the last section, called "Borough of Broken Dreams," we also encounter a character who is crazy. In "Lighthouse," by the always-startling S.J. Rozan, the main character is ordered by aliens to commit certain crimes. This is not science fiction, however, and we soon learn that the aliens live in his head. Rozan pens a fine line between what is real and what is imagined and we find ourselves questioning our first impressions. The Tibetan Museum, a focal point of this story, is described with great clarity in all its musty strangeness, just as I remembered it from my childhood.

This review has included a sampling, but the book as a whole has a cumulative impact. Each story in this enjoyable collection has its own charms, if the words "enjoyable" or "charms" can be used with these dark tales, and each can stand-alone. However, if, like me, you had always looked at Staten Island as banal and benign, by the book's end your ideas will be forever changed.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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