the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Brooklyn Gets Gritty in Brooklyn Noir

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The day I bought Brooklyn Noir, I got off the subway in my neighborhood and saw police posters taped along the row of poles. I walked over to get a good look at the crude pencil sketch, to see what the man, rendered, had done. Later, I would look up the full story. The night before, at 10pm, a man in his 30s looking for a fight, got into a brawl with a random 20-year-old on the train. They got off in Brooklyn and continued the senseless fight on the platform. The guy in the sketch wrestled both himself and the stranger onto the tracks but only he made it back up alive. Amidst the horror and confusion, the perpetrator fled the scene.

The weight of this incident transformed me, stuck with me for days — and still comes to mind as I stand safely behind the yellow line. It’s something that makes you think of your own family members, either as victim or survivor. It makes you consider your daily commute. I can’t imagine an adult living in New York who hasn’t worried about the possibility of being shoved onto the tracks by an unstable person, of which there seems to be no shortage. After all, even the sanest person, at the height of rush hour, has at one point or another fantasized about pushing an inconsiderate neighbor (don’t lie, New Yorkers).

Our constant vulnerability makes the Friday night incident so chilling. Randomness. It could’ve happened to any one of us. Stepping into this scene, new book in hand, you almost have to forgive me for asking, “who needs Brooklyn Noir when you have the local news?”

With the gruesome death reverberating in my bones, I tucked the book into my bag and made my way above ground.

However gruesome the news gets, New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. The morning headlines are a constant reminder that we live in a city riddled with violent acts yet there’s a strong sense of pride. Those “I Love NY” shirts are not just for tourists. We carry on — and for most of us, we wouldn’t dream of doing so elsewhere. This attachment is fiercest at the borough level. To Manhattanites, Manhattan is the best; for those in Queens, it’s their corner that shines; same goes for The Bronx and Staten Island. Then there’s Brooklyn, the feistiest of them all — but, of course, I’m biased.

When Brooklyn-based indie publisher Akashic Books launched their city-specific noir series in 2004 it only made sense that they would begin at home.

Edited by Brooklyn-native crime writer Tim McLoughlin, Brooklyn Noir is divided into four parts: Old School, New School, Cops & Robbers, and Backwater Brooklyn. With each story taking place in a different neighborhood, the borough’s diversity is in full view. Pearl Abraham takes readers into the exclusive Hasidic community in Williamsburg — a group who still fights the bike lane that passes through their housing complexes for fear of exposed flesh — while McLoughlin’s “When All This Was Bay Ridge” is a sketch of a once-Irish neighborhood where the original population clings to its roots by way of a local bar.

From the inside looking out: Picture an embassy in a foreign country. A truly foreign country. Not a Western European ally, but a fundamentalist state perennially on the precipice of war. A fill-the-sandbags-and-wait-for-the-airstrike enclave. That was Olsen’s, home to the last of the donkeys, the white dinosaurs of Sunset Park. A jukebox filled with Kristy McColl and the Clancy Brothers, and flyers tacked to the flaking walls advertising step-dancing classes, Gaelic lessons, and the memorial run to raise money for a scholarship in the name of a recently slain cop. Within three blocks of the front door you could attend a cockfight, buy crack, or pick up a streetwalker, but in Olsen’s, it was always 1965

In “New School,” Adam Mansbach takes us to Crown Heights where Abraham Lazarus, a white, weed-slinging Rasta, sets out on a revenge mission against the unknown thug who robbed him of his pounds of drugs that morning.

Tap tap BOOM. Birds ain’t even got their warble on, and my shit’s shaking off the hinges. I don’t even bother with the peephole. It has to be Abraham Lazarus, the Jewish Rasta, playing that dub bassline on my door.

BOOM. I swung it open and Laz barged in like he was expecting to find the answer to life itself inside. A gust of Egyptian Musk oil and Nature’s Blessing dread-balm hit two seconds after he flew by: Laz stayed haloed in that shit like it was some kind of armor. He did a U-turn around my couch, ran his palm across his forehead, wiped the sweat onto his jeans, and came back to the hall.

“I just got fuckin’ robbed, bro.”

The stories in Brooklyn Noir are dark, gritty, and realistic with a “ripped from the headlines” type feel: conversations started in chatrooms taken offline, crooked cops covering their tracks, the revenge of an abused woman. It’s almost odd to call this collection is enjoyable, yet it’s one of those rarities where you think you’ve found your favorite story until you move onto the next. It’s not surprising that Akashic published two more Brooklyn-themed noir collections or that they invited McLoughlin back to edit them.

Whether you’re a born-and-raised Brooklynite, a transplant, or have never stepped foot inside this glorious corner of the world, Brooklyn Noir is an absolute must-read for noir-aficionados and the crime-curious alike.

[Links]
Buy Brooklyn Noir at IndieBound or your local Indie bookstore
Buy Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics
Buy Brooklyn Noir 3: Nothing But the Truth
Buy Heart of the Old Country by Tim McLoughlin
Check out the entire series at Akashic
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Written by Gabrielle

May 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

4 Responses

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  1. Sounds interesting. I always like reading about Brooklyn, it’s like moving back without all the worries.

    pagansilvertree

    May 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

  2. […] Gabrielle Gantz revisits the anthology Brooklyn Noir. […]

    • Just found this, thanks for the kind words Gabrielle. It made my day.

      Tim McLoughlin

      June 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      • More than welcome. My favorite in the series so far and not just because I live there.

        Gabrielle

        June 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm


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