Review: Twin Cities Noir

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Full disclosure: mysteries are one of my secret pleasures (along with Clint Eastwood movies). Aesthetic credibility might be undermined by such a confession, but literary artistry really does meet suspense in Akashic Books’ _Twin Cities Noir_. It’s the latest addition to their Noir series, each set in and featuring authors from a specific city, such as Chicago, San Francisco or Brooklyn.

Minnesota Book Award winner David Housewright’s “Mai-Nu’s Window” opens the collection. A shy Puerto Rican teenage boy and a Hmong woman attending law school are Frogtown neighbors. The unexpected consequences of their encounter reveals the challenges of immigrant tradition and American assimilation with subtle perfection, echoing classic themes from James M. Caine.

K.J. Erickson, author of the Marshall Bahr mystery series also set in the Twin Cities, reveals an unnoticed everyday locale: a northeast Minneapolis impound parking lot in “Noir Niege” in which three working-class men experience a miracle. Judith Guest, famous for Ordinary People, a novel later made into a film, works the other end of the class spectrum: a successful writer has an unusual “business meeting” in an Edina wine bar—too bad Lana Turner can’t play this cool vamp. William Kent Krueger sets his Cork O’Connor mystery series in Minnesota’s north woods, but hits St. Paul’s Westside in “Bums,” in which a man utterly on the bottom converges with a wealthy couple, with devastating, unpredictable results.

Mary Sharratt, a Minnesota native who has relocated to England, hits my old stomping grounds: the West Bank/Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis. “Taking the Bullets Out” is another encounter between neighbors. Neil, a middle-aged hippie and ER nurse at HCMC, and Becky, a working-class young woman trapped with a bad boyfriend, are unforgettable in this illuminating look at an all too-common kind of violence.

New York Times bestselling author Steve Thayer creates a ghost story that’s tense and irreverent in “I’m God,” which centers on three Duluth high school friends, the mighty and mysterious Lake Superior and a an odd apparition. And Ellen Hart, winner of the Lambda Prize for Best Lesbian Mystery, explores friendship between a retired English teacher losing his eyesight and a troubled inner city teenager in “Blindsided.” This mystery’s grip of tension really moved me.

Three of the writers draw on St. Paul’s “gangster past” with enjoyable results, but it’s the contemporary stories that transcend genre and linger with their edgy insights into the dangerous convergence of human desperation and desire. These are just some of the treasures in _Twin Cities Noir._

Besides the Noir mystery collections, Akashic Books publishes an eclectic mix of non-fiction. Akashic was founded by Girls Against Boys bassist Johnny Temple, whose slogan for this iconoclastic small press is “reversing gentrification in the literary world.”

The editors of _Twin Cities Noir_, Julie Schaper and Steve Horowitz, will speak at two book events in the Twin Cities: Thursday, June 8 at 7pm (includes writers Quinton Skinner and Brad Zeller) at Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis; and Thursday, June 22 at 7pm at Micawber’s Bookstore in St. Paul.

_Lydia Howell produces and hosts “Catalyst” Tues. 11am on KFAI Radio, which regularly features authors, both local and national. For a weekly schedule of Twin Cities literary events, tune into “Write On Radio,” Thursdays at 11am, 90.3 FM in Minneapolis and 106.7 FM in St. Paul._

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