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Monday, 4 January 2016

‘Jewish Noir’ Edited by Kenneth Wishnia

Published by PM Press,
1 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-111-0

This collection of thirty-three stories is well up to the standard set by the excellent noir series. It begins with a fascinating introduction by Wishnia, in which he tries to analyse what being Jewish means: a people whose name, Hebrew, comes from the word ebra meaning ‘to cross over’, or whose Egyptian glyph denotes ‘a people without a place’; a people whose religious books include the individual fighting against society; a people whose elders were lost in the Holocaust, and whose grandmothers still keep a bag packed, just in case they have to flee the next pogrom.

The book is divided into seven sections. All the stories were good, so I’ve picked out particular favourites to comment on. The first section, Bitter Herbs focuses on individuals caught up in the machinery of the modern world, and my favourite here was ‘Living Water’, B K Stevens’ wonderful satire on modern school assessment (there is a writer who’s suffered too many touchy-feely powerpoints). The satire was spot-on, and the ending totally unexpected. The Golden Land looks at the difficulties in assimilation into a new culture, and the stand-out for me here was ‘The Lost Pages of the books of Judith’, Kenneth Wishnia’s tale of young college boys fighting prejudice in the late 40s – a prejudice that cropped up horrifyingly often in other stories from the land of freedom and equal opportunities.  Night and Fog looked at the noir motif of a cause doomed from the beginning, and my favourite here was Melissa Yi’s haunting Blood Diamonds, which traces the legacy of the Holocaust through three generations. The longer section L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) looks at the noir motif of mortality and the passing of time; I particularly enjoyed Stephen Jay Schwartz’s gentle ‘Yahrzeit Candle’ which dealt with heart disease passing through a family, and the tough voice of Alan Orloff’s ‘One of Them’.   Suburban Sprawl opened with a wonderful monologue by Rabbi Adam D Fischer, parodying a mother’s talk about her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and continued with several tales of bullying.  Kaffee mit Schlock went for the ‘adrenaline-fueled gut punch of hardboiled pulp fiction’; I enjoyed the sting-in-the-tail story of a nurse and her patient, ‘Doc’s Oscar’ by Eddie Muller. The final section was Vintage Reprint, with an essay and short story from the 60s by Harlan Ellison, of a famous comedian returning to the small town that mistreated him as a child.

A wonderful collection of short stories with the bleakest, blackest of noir feel about them all. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

 Kenneth Wishnia was born in Hanover, NH  to a roving band of traveling academics. He earned a B.A. from Brown University (1982) and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook (1996). He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Long Island, where he is a professor of English.
Ken’s novels have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity Awards, and have made Best Mystery of the Year lists at Booklist, Library Journal, and The Washington Post. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Murder in Vegas, Long Island Noir, Queens Noir, Politics Noir, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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