Brooklyn Noir

I’ve never read much crime fiction, or so-called “genre” fiction of any kind, really, but I’d heard such good things about Brooklyn Noir that I decided to give it a try. Plus, it seemed like a good summer read and a good way to get away from work for a while. I was not disappointed.

This book is a lot of fun and reminds me a bit of McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, the only other genre compilation I’ve read in recent years. However, unlike Thrilling Tales, Brooklyn Noir doesn’t have any clunkers. (Of course, there’s another big difference: namely, it’s all crime fiction and–with one delightful exception that I leave you to discover on your own–it doesn’t have any fantastical or supernatural stories).

Every story is a pleasure to read and is just the right length. Plots or styles that I have a feeling might grow stale or a little tiresome in a full-blown novel are perfect for the 15 to 20 pages that make up most of the stories in this collection. Cops and robbers, thugs and gumshoes–this book is just bursting with cool and feels like such a guilty pleasure for an avid reader of so-called “literary fiction.” I read most of the stories before going to bed at night, and I felt like an excited little kid the whole time, nestled under the covers with a flashlight and just hoping that my mom wouldn’t come in and tell me it was time for me to get to sleep. Each story is so compelling that it’s tough to put the book down when you finish the one you’re reading.

The seedy setting of Brooklyn is so effective and so masterfully crafted that someone like me with little background in either crime fiction or Brooklyn can’t help but wonder if noir itself would even be possible in another city. Though each writer makes the city his or her own, they all give the impression that Brooklyn is noir, and vice versa; the two cannot be disjoined. The TOC includes a nice touch, though: it provides the particular neighborhood in which each story is set, showing that though Brooklyn has unifying characteristics and a general inclination to noir, it also contains multitudes. Think that Park Slope is the same as Downtown? Sunset Park and Canarsie no different than Coney Island, Brooklyn Heights, Bensonhurst, or Brighton Beach? Think again, and get ready to witness the differences.

The epigraph that begins the book, “Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh f—- town” (from Thomas Wolfe’s “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn”), makes a good point. But by the time you finish the book, you feel like you do in fact know the city t’roo an’ t’roo. Perhaps that’s because you don’t have the word of one guy. You have 20 unique perspectives, each with a different voice, angle, agenda, and incredible story to tell.

I won’t single out any stories for special attention, because I really don’t want to run the risk of leaving some of the best stories out. They really are all worth reading. Just get this book and read them all. Have fun!