Books Magazine

Buffalo Noir

By Brian Abbott

Buffalo Noir book coverAkashic Books continues to grow their line of Noir titles, and this one hits a little closer to home (at least for me).

Most of the Noir books have been set in big and iconic cities like Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the New York City boroughs. Or they’ve been set in familiar and exotic foreign cities like London, Paris, Moscow, Copenhagen, Venice, Singapore, Istanbul and dozens more.

Buffalo, New York, at first, seems an unlikely entry into the series, but the collection of stories in Buffalo Noir proves that the hardboiled genre associated with dark alleys and rain-slicked streets can take place anywhere. “Years in the making, Buffalo Noir is finally ready … I’m knocked out by the range of modes and moods, the different neighborhoods protrayed and eras evoked … This book is full of shadows and secrets–and everywhere around it seems to fall the snow that Buffalonians aren’t just used to but are defined by: beautiful, elemental, sometimes deadly.” So says Ed Park, one of the editors of and a contributor to the collection, in his introduction.

Twelve stories are included, and the table of contents informs readers just which “neighborhood” in Buffalo each story is set in. One of the highlights is a story by Joyce Carol Oates, an author one might not association with the mystery/crime genre.

Oates has strong ties to Upstate and Central New York, having attended Syracuse University, and she has published more than 40 novels in addition to several short works, plays, poetry and even nonfiction. Most of these works fit in the literary fiction genre, but a few have darker tones that suit the noir genre. Included here is a story about a fateful Valentine’s Day in 1959, appropriately titled, Valentine.

“In Upstate New York in those years there were snowstorms so wild and fierce they could change the world, within a few hours, to a place you wouldn’t know. First came the heavy black thunderclouds over Lake Erie, then the wind hammering overhead like a freight train, then the snowflakes erupting, flying, swirling liked crazed atoms.” The story begins. It goes on to relate a young high school student’s “date” with her algebra teacher–“the youngest teacher at the school” at age twenty-six or -seven. They go ice skating on a snowy night and have coffee at a local diner. But is the narrator, the student, fantasizing about their relationship being something more than platonic? And what of the probability of “tragic misunderstanding?”

Stories by familiar genre authors Lawrence Block and S. J. Rozan are also included in the collection, which was released in 2015. Buffalo Noir makes for an excellent read during May, which is also National Short Story Month.

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