MOSCOW NOIR edited by Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen
“I had thought I lived in one of the best neighborhoods in Moscow. Right next to the Sokol railway station and the large triangle of Bratsky Park, with its stately old lime trees. The park ends right at a lane of chestnuts, straight as an arrow, bordering an elegant square. That lane runs up to the famous Birch Grove Park, as big as a small forest. To live in a place surrounded by trees and green parks—what more could you wish for? Well, for one thing, that there weren’t sexual predators roaming around in them.”
–from “The Coat that Smelled Like Earth” by Dimitri Kosyrev (Master Chen).
Review by Sudheer Apte (JUN 1, 2010)
Akashic Books has become the Starbucks of noir, with new locations in their Noir Series franchise opening every day. Moscow Noir is a story collection set in Moscow. Each story is set in a particular location in the city, and there is a small, hand-drawn map at the beginning showing where these neighborhoods are. These particular stories are originally in Russian, each translated into English for the collection.
Apart from their beat, what is common to all these stories is their dark and menacing subject matter. Thomas Hobbes wrote in the seventeenth century Leviathan that, in the natural state of mankind, a man’s life is “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” These adjectives would all apply to these stories set in today’s Russian Federation. Sordid crimes, gangsters and other underworld characters, sometimes supernatural themes, and a hefty body count characterize most of them.
Russia, and Moscow in particular, has a multi-layered and long history of suffering, offering up a rich mine of trauma, oppression, and unresolved conflict. It also has a long literary tradition. The best stories in the collection have some reverberations of a hoary past on the everyday life of a neighborhood. My favorite is “The Coat that Smelled Like Earth,” by Dimitri Kosyrev (Master Chen), where a Sherlock Holmes-like protagonist, a psychiatrist who is an amateur sleuth, tries to dig into a series of sexual assaults near his home, and unearths strange connections to Soviet-era buildings and bomb shelters under an abandoned military airport.
The book’s two editors together run an agency in Saint Petersburg for Russian writers worldwide, and their selections reflect a wide range. Among the fourteen stories, no author is represented twice. Some stories are set on a large-scale epic canvas, evoking the old deprivations of the two World Wars, when entire populations were displaced by hunger and war. Others are more intimate: in “Daddy Loves Me” by Maxim Maximov, a schoolteacher who lives in her old father’s apartment poisons him. In true Russian fashion, the poison does not work as promised by her underworld contacts, and she has to take matters into her own hands.
It is hard to over-emphasize the power of the locations described in some of these stories. The city of Moscow is itself quite a character in real life. The particular neighborhood described in the Kosyrev story, on the northern segment of the Zamoskvoretskaya metro line, is a typical mixed-use neighborhood. Small wooden stalls selling flowers, vegetables, and money changing services jostle for space with big retail stores along the four-lane divided highway called Leningradskiy Prospekt. Leafy but crowded residential apartment blocks sit right next to them, sharing dusty streets with huge, ugly buildings of an aeronautical part maunfacturer, while the subway rumbles underneath. The anonymity of a big, twenty-first century city here lives uneasily with a past, not long ago, when these same buildings were part of a military-industrial complex close to an airport.
The young gum-chewing women and men descending the giant escalators into Sokol metro station today probably never think about that past. These stories might force them to.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 2 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Akashic Books (June 1, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen|
|EXTRAS:||Publisher Page on Moscow Noir|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
Books in the Akashic Noir Series (Alphabetical Order):
- Baltimore Noir edited by Laura Lippman (May 2006)
- Boston Noir edited by Dennis Lehane (Nivember 2009)
- Bronx Noir edited by by S.J. Rozan (August 2007)
- Brooklyn Noir edited by Tim McLoughlin (June 2004)
- Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics edited by Tim McLoughlin (June 2005)
- Chicago Noir edited by Neal Pollack (2005)
- D.C. Noir edited by George Pelecanos (February 2006)
- D.C. Noir 2: The Classics edited by George Pelecanos (February 2006)
- Delhi Noir by Hirsh Sawhney (August 2009)
- Detroit Noir edited by E.J. Olsen and John C. Hocking (November 2007)
- Dublin Noir : The Celtic Tiger vs. The Ugly American edited by Ken Bruen (March 2006)
- Haiti Noir edited by Edwidge Danticat (January 2011)
- Havana Noir edited by Achy Obejas (October 2007)
- Indian Country Noir edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez (June 2010)
- Istanbul Noir edted by Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler (November 2008)
- Las Vegas Noir edited by Jarret Keene and Todd James Pierce (May 2008)
- London Noir edited by Cathi Unsworth (August 2006)
- Lone Star Noir edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd (October 2010)
- Los Angeles Noir edited by Jarret Keene and Todd James Pierce (May 2008)
- Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics edited by Denise Hamilton (April 2010)
- Manhattan Noir edited by Lawrence Block (April 2006)
- Manhattan Noir 2: The Classics edited by Lawrence Block (September 2008)
- Mexico City Noir edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (February 2010)
- Miami Noir edited by Les Standiford (November 2006)
- Moscow Noir edited by Natalia Smirnova & Julia Goumen (June 2010)
- New Orleans Noir edited by Julie Smith (April 2007)
- Orange County Noir edited by Gary Phillips (April 2010)
- Paris Noir edited by AurÃ©lien Masson (November 2008)
- Philadelphia edited by Carlin Romano (November 2010)
- Phoenix Noir edited by Patrick Milikin (November 2009)
- Portland Noir edited by Kevin Sampsell (June 2009)
- Richmond Noir edited by Andrew Blossom, Briand Castleberry & Tom De Haven (March 2010)
- Rome Noir edited by Chiara Stangalino and Maxim Jakubowski (February 2009)
- Queens Noir edited by Robert Knightly (January 2008)
- San Francisco Noir (October 2005)
- San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics (February 2009)
- Seattle Noir edited by Curt Colbert (June 2009)
- Toronto Noir edited by Janine Armin and Nathaniel G. Moore (May 2008)
- Trinidad Noir edited by by Lisa Allen-Agostini and Jeanne Mason (August 2008)
- Twin Cities Noir edited by Julie Schaper and Steven Horwitz (June 2006)
- Wall Street Noir edited by Peter Spiegelman (June 2007)