Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's noir, but is it always Dublin?

It's an odd collection so far, its oddity not entirely explained by Ken Bruen's introduction: "At first, it was straightforward — Dublin authors to write on their city ... Then we turned the concept on its head, as you do in noir. The Irish are fascinated by how we appear to the world, so let's have a look, we thought, at how this city appears from the outside."

The result is an odd assortment of stories from American, British, Irish and Canadian writers, Eoin Colfer, Laura Lippman, Jim Fusilli, Olen Steinhauer, Reed Farrel Coleman and Bruen himself among them. Why odd? Because there are some terrific stories here, only some left me wondering what they had to do with Dublin or Ireland. With others, the connection was there, but self-conscious and seemingly grafted on as an afterthought. In one or two, the dialect and pronunciation were grating. Bruen writes that "You won't find many leprechauns or bodhráns here — and not one top o' the mornin'." Fair enough, but a pack of writers who make their characters say "feckin' this" and "feckin' that" all the time can be just as bad.

What binds the collection, then? Well, a number of men wind up bound, to chairs or to beds, victims or potential victims of revenge. Two of the collection’s best stories are revenge tales, from Craig McDonald and Laura Lippman, McDonald’s because of a clever twist and Lippman’s, noirest of noir, true to the bleak spirit of the genre but new all the same, with a punch-in-the-gut double twist. I also like Duane Swierczynski’s “Lonely and Gone,” dark as its title and with a canny use of untranslated Irish Gaelic that adds to the strange, buzzing, off-kilter atmosphere. And John Rickards appears to have torn up whatever guidelines he was given when he wrote his weird, paranoid, hilarious supernatural romp, "Wish."

Eoin Colfer’s “Taking on PJ” is another highlight. It takes a special kind of alchemy to mix violence with laugh-out-loud humor and make both work. No one does it better than Bruen himself, and Colfer is just about as good. It’s no wonder Bruen chose “Taking on PJ” to open the collection. With its accent and its attitude, there’s no mistaking where this one takes place.

(Click here for the complete table of contents of Dublin Noir.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dave Knadler said...

These compilations of stories around a theme usually leave me cold, for some reason, but these sound interesting.

And hey, it's another way for writers of short fiction to get paid. That can't be bad.

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

There has been an explosion of location-themed noir collections, epecially from Akashic Books in the U.S. I posted a comment about this some time back at http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2006/10/world-of-noir-anthologies.html Twin Cities Noir, about Minneapolis/St. Paul, was probably most surprising to me. I glanced at the volume this week, though, and there's a nice bit about one of the cities, Minneapolis, I think, having once been named Pig's Eye, or something similar. That's a nice way of saying hey, there's a dirty truth beneath the bland surface.

Perhaps the collections of stories around a theme leave you cold because the theme may not be what determines your choice of reading. Another possibility, at least in the case of stories commissioned especially for a themed collection, is that the authors may strain to fit their stories to the theme. I suspect that was the case in some of the Dublin Noir stories.

I'd say that if these collections give local writers a chance to get into print, more power to them. But the titles can get in the way, too, at least with the more evocative cities, around which clusters of associations have built up.

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Collections and themes, much like awards and organizations, will never be something we all agree on. Akashaic has a forthcoming collection of Toronto Noir listed. Toronto. Guess it suits the narcissism of the city to overlook the rest of the country. And from the people I've talked to, nobody seems to know if it's even Canadians at the helm or if any Canadians who actually write noir - as in, all five of us - will even be involved.

Part of the reason I liked Ken's approach to Dublin Noir is because Dublin isn't just a city, Ireland not just a country. To so many of us, it's the homeland, it's a piece of our past. I spent some time living in Ireland, have Irish roots and so although I'm Canadian I feel a strong connection to Ireland. I can see the potential for the external pov there.

But that's also why I'm nervous about Canadian collections that don't have a healthy balance of Canadian authors. For the most part, the world looks at us and says we're nice, or aren't we a cold country? Or - shudder - "oh, the colonies". In a couple months you'll be able to see a recent confession made to me about an intelligent, educated person's view of Canada and it may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I have one whole author I won't read because of the extreme, unrealistic way they portray Canadians.

Perhaps because of the number of stereotypes perpetuated, the 'nice Canadian' myth, I'm worried about collections that have too many external pov's in this case. This was, in fact, why I shelved my planned collection of Canadian Noir - I had some very impressive names prepared to contribute, but hardly any Canadians in the mix. If TN doesn't have a serious dose of Canadian authors who actually do noir and understand noir I'll probably pass on even reading it.

I'm looking forward to Expletive Deleted - the retitled Fuck Noir anthology from Jen Jordan and Bleak House.

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

It's difficult to weigh in on Fuck Noir since the link from Jen Jordan's Web site is "open to authors only."

In any case, I agree that Ireland, if not Dublin, is a part of so many people's pasts and imaginations that soliciting views from outside was an understandably attractive idea. The same is the case with London and Paris, which is why Paris Noir and the two London Noir collections could work as well. Of course, one could argue that if the cities are so much a part of everyone's imagination, why not let crime-fiction readers make do with stories already set there?

I mean, Dublin Noir introduced me to at least three writers whose work I had not read before and I’ll want to read more of now. Laura Lippman’s story is excellent, noir to the bone, chilling, and not offering the central figure the easy out of dying. I definitely want to read more of her work. But what’s her outsider’s view of Dublin? Damned if I know, and damned if I should be expected to know. Perhaps once I read more of her work set in Baltimore, I’ll find that the Irish setting really does make a difference to her.

I also think your apprehensions about Canada noir collections might be well-founded, and such apprehensions could apply to other settings for noir collections as well. I don't hanker especially after stories that capture the unique ambience of Minneapolis/St. Paul, for instance, but I would happy if that anthology showcased new or lesser-known authors from there. My worst fear about a Toronto Noir or Canadian Noir would that some author from outside would write a story complete with the epiphany that hey, those nice Canadians can do some bad stuff, too.

August 12, 2007  
Blogger Juri said...

I've read only two stories from DUBLIN NOIR, but I picked it up, because it really seemed more interesting than any other city noir anthology of the recent years.

I'm just waiting for someone to do HELSINKI NOIR (and ask me to edit it). (Insert smiley here.)

August 13, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, Juri, why not? Helsinki may be cleaner, more egalitarian and better organized than many American cities, but SOME dirty, crooked things must happen there.

Ken Bruen did have some interesting ideas about how to organize Dublin Noir, but I'm not sure how closely his writers stuck to the guidelines. Perhaps the collection might more accurately have been titled Ireland Noir.

I think some of the stories in the collection, excellent stories, had no special collection with Dublin. My suspicion was only reinforced when I flipped through some of the other city noir collections and saw some of the same authors' names turning up.

August 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Toronto Noir is 16 Toronto authors edited by 2 Toronto authors with a photo of the CN tower on the cover.

They even found Noir authors, using CSI technology and genre-specific telepathy.

Your worst fears might not come true. And yes, Toronto is first on the block for the series. Of course. They pushed for Saskatoon Noir, but were worried about people not being able to make it out to home games.

September 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'll look for Toronto Noir. Quite naturally, any place that is home to at least one human can be a scene for noir, but how many places deserve the word next to their names? Who knows? Must a city occupy a special place in the imagination (New York, Los Angeles, Havana)? Must it be home to a group of talented writers? Attract the attention of writers from elsewhere? Be the brainchild of some enterprising publisher? Who knows?

And what about Come-By-Chance, Medicine Hat, St.-Louis-du-Ha-Ha or Point au Pic Noir? Or a compilation of French-language noir set in the Arctic called Polars Polars?

September 26, 2007  
Blogger notho said...

Polars Polars would be a cool venture.

Or Shawinagin Falls Noir.

home of the late Jacques Plante

City-specific projects seem to grab people. But again, I agree, how many places indeed deserve the word next to their name. A city doesn't really occupy a special place in the imagination, it's just a label of convenience, a reference point, then it moves into something else.

September 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I once sat in the same row as Jacques Plante at an Expos game in Jarry Park. It was nice to see an athlete interested in a sport other than his own.

I think some cities do occupy special places in the imagination. In such cases, though, they don't require anthologies to hammer the point home. I'm interested in, say, the Havana Noir volume, just to see what light it might shed on an unfamiliar environment and what new perspectives it might offer. Other than that, I would hope that these city noir books offer opportunities to new writers, or at least to writers new to me.

September 26, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

There were three Canadian noir collections, edited by Peter Sellers and Kerry Schooley a few years ago. And despite my story in one of them, there were plenty of hard, gritty, nasty stories, both originals and reprints, in them.

Anyone that thinks there is no noir in Canada (whatever "noir" is this week) isn't paying attention. Or swallows too easily what (some) Americans say.

Don't use one anthology's failure to get off the ground to categorize or dismiss an entire nation's literature, tabarnacle!

November 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I would not mind looking for those Canada noir collections. The title would work in both official languages, a big plus. Thanks.

November 25, 2007  

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