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Thrills, Chills, and General Silliness (with Weldon Burge)

Book Review: Philadelphia Noir

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A few years ago, at a writers conference at Wilmington College, I ran into Ed Dee, author of the great police procedurals 14 Peck Slip, Bronx Angel, Little Boy Blue, Nightbird, and The Con Man's Daughter. Ed mentioned that his short story, "Ernie K.'s Gelding," had just been published in the Akashic Books anthology, Bronx Noir. I went straight out and bought the book, loved Ed's story as well as the other stories, and then ordered three other Akashic anthologies. I haven't been disappointed yet!

If you’re not familiar with the award-winning noir anthology series published by Akashic, you’re missing something truly grand! Launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, the series now has anthologies set in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, D.C., Las Vegas, Phoenix, and many other U.S. locales, as well as cities and places around the globe, including Toronto, Paris, Mexico City, Havana, Dublin, Moscow, London, and many others. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within each respective city. It’s a spectacular publishing effort that is still expanding, with editions set in Cape Cod, Pittsburgh, and San Diego scheduled for publication this year.

The recently released anthology, Philadelphia Noir, is another fabulous addition to the series. As editor Carlin Romano writes in the introduction: “Per capita, Philadelphia matches any city weirdo incident for weirdo incident. But we trump everyone on history.” It’s not surprising that the 15 stories included here not only hint at the mood and flavor of this great city, but imbue a sense of history to their noirish sensibilities.

I particularly liked three stories that harkened back to Philadelphia’s history: “Lonergan’s Girl” by Duane Swierczynski, set in the Frankford area in 1924, with its sudden violence on the Frankford El; “Ghost Walk” by Cary Holladay, set in Chestnut Hill in 1899, and its creepy bartender; and “The Ratcatcher” by Gerald Kolpan, set on South Street also in the mid- or late 1800s, about rodents and entrepreneurship. Like the other stories in the anthology, each had its own distinctive voice and style, and provided keen insight on the culture of Philadelphia over the years. Well done and entertaining!

Some of the stories stretch the definition of “noir”—but all are of high literary quality and well worth reading. And if you’re familiar with Philadelphia, you’ll have fun matching the stories with the locales that you’ve visited (or may even currently live in).

(A version of this review was also published in the April 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine.)

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