PHILADELPHIA NOIR edited by Carlin Romano

Book Quote:

“Philadelphia noir is different from the mood, the sensibility, the dimensions of noir encountered in more glamorous American cities…In Philadelphia, we do ordinary noir – the humble killings, robberies, collars, cold cases that confront people largely occupied with getting by.” –Carlin Romano

Book Review:

Review by Chuck Barksdale  (JAN 15, 2011)

Akhasic Press’ new collection of  noir stories is Philadelphia Noir, with 15 stories based in various parts of the city and one neighboring town (Narberth, PA). Finally, after many US and foreign cities already having a collection or some cities having two, one of the US oldest, and darkest cities has a collection of its own.

The stories are provided in one of four sections – City of Bursts, City of Otherly Love, The Faker City and Those Who Forget the Past. The best section is probably the last as each story, as the section implies, has some part that is historically based. Duane Swierczynski’s “Lonergan’s Girl” seemed to stay with me the most and is my favorite in the collection. While an off duty policeman, John Lonergan rides the cold unheated one-year old Frankford El in January, 1924, he becomes worried about a female rider that he believes will need his help. However, things turn out differently when another man enters their car and asks “Wallets and purses.” Another excellent story in this section was “Reality” by Cordelia Frances Biddle where a current day re-enactment in the Old City section of Philadelphia finds the author realizing the characters from her Martha Beale series had come to life. The other two stories in this section “The Ratcatcher” by Gerald Kolpan and “Ghost Walk” by Cary Holladay are also excellent, although my distaste for rodents probably kept me from really appreciating “The Ratcatcher” and the talents of the main character in collecting and training rats. In “Ghost Walk,” a modern day tour guide tells a story of a man who collects dead bodies in his basement who becomes interested in a woman and her daughter.

“Devil’s Pocket” by Keith Gilman is one of the best stories in this collection as is “A Cut Above” by Laura Spagnoli. “Devil’s Pocket,” from the City of Bursts section, is a first person story of ex-Policeman Seamus Kilpatrick. When he finds out Millie Price, the woman who asked to meet with him to help with a problem, has been murdered, he begins his own investigation into her murder. “A Cut Above” from the City of Otherly Love section has Beth realizing how easy it is to steal from her friends and co-workers to provide her and her new boyfriend Alex some needed fun in their lives, although things may not be as fun as she thought.

Johnny Temple, the publisher and founder of Akashic Books, was honored in November, 2010 at Noircon in Philadelphia. As part of one of the panels, he was interviewed by Tim McLouglin (the editor of Akashic’s first noir collection). The panel discussion provided interesting background about Johnny Temple (part of a punk rock group Girls Against Boys) and why he founded Akashic Books. The publication of Philadelphia Noir was scheduled for Noircon and a separate panel was held with Carlin Romano, the editor and author of one story and several other authors who had books in the collection, including Meredith Anthony, Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Tafoya and Jeff Zervanos.

All of the authors have spent some time in the city and some have been lifelong residents. As a result, I think, the authors avoided the obvious references that most people not from the area would recognize, such as talking about cheesesteaks (probably referenced once) or the Phillies (referenced a few times, but that’s understandable…) Carlin Romano mentions this in his introduction:

With apologies, you won’t find the obvious here. Having served as literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty-five years, and written more stories on “Philadelphia Literature” than anyone living, I thank my contributors for their very limited references to hoagies, cheesesteaks, water ice, soft pretzels, and waitresses that call their customers “Hon.” There’s no glimpse of Clay Olenburg’s Clothespin or the rowers by the Waterworks, and only one passing mention of Rocky. Truth is, we don’t talk much about those things. We just live our lives.

Interestingly after just reading this introduction, I felt the first story, “Princess” by Aimee LaBrie, which was otherwise an interesting and enjoyable story, seemed to start with a few too many Philadelphia references. Nonetheless, these references are fortunately very few throughout the collection.

Since I was at Noircon and as a Philadelphia area resident for my entire life, I was very interested in reading this collection. Although I had heard of a few of the authors in this collection, I had actually never read anything significant by any of the contributors. After sitting through the panel discussion at Noircon, I was most interested in those authors that were present, especially those that stayed for many of the other panels, such as Duane Swierczynski and Dennis Tafoya. Although never a city resident, I’ve worked and attended college in many different parts of Philadelphia over the last 50 years. However, I still am not familiar with many parts or the specific names of the sections of the city. Each story is based on a section (neighborhood) of the city and marked under the title and marked on a helpful, although perhaps not exactly accurate, map of the city.

As is now more customary in short story collections, this book also included a short biography and photo of each author at the end of the book. Since many of these authors are not that well known it was helpful to learn more about them and where to get even more information.

Overall, this collection was excellent, but left me wanting more. Many sections of the city were overlooked and with two exceptions, the neighboring suburbs were not mentioned. Hopefully, Carlin Romano and Akashic press will be up for another collection. After all, smaller cities, such as Boston and San Francisco have already had several collections.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Akashic Noir Series (November 1, 2010)
Chuck Barksdale
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Carlin Romano
EXTRAS: Akashic page on Philadephia Noir
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Moscow Noir

San Francisco Noir 2

New Orleans Noir

Mexico City Noir

Boston Noir


Books in the Akashic Noir Series (Alphabetical Order):

January 15, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Noir, Short Stories, US Mid-Atlantic

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