The Twin Cities as ‘place’ does not immediately come to mind when one thinks of urban crime stories. Having lived for more than 25 years in Detroit, perceived to be a far more dangerous place in the American psyche, I read ‘Twin Cities Noir,’ with the expectation of finding mysterious, disconnected murders, much like when the body of a middle-aged auto executive was found along Detroit’s main drag, near where I lived a few decades ago. The discovery of this crime warranted nothing but a three or four paragraph short in the morning paper’s local section with the requisite line: “the police investigation remains open.”
But that’s a mystery for the yet to be published “Detroit Noir.” The Twin Cities collection of crime fiction is the ninth in a series of original noir anthologies the publisher has developed, featuring crime stories in cities from Dublin to D.C. to San Francisco.
Twin Cities Noir, edited by Julie Schaper & Steven Horwitz, 2006, Akashic Books. Crime fiction short stories by 15 Minneapolis and St. Paul writers
Throughout this fine collection of short stories by Minnesota writers, the reader is taken into the lives of fractured families, lonesome drifters and embattled couples based in familiar locales like St. Paul’s Frogtown, High Bridge area, Summit-University and the downtown Gopher Bar. In Minneapolis, enjoyable yet tragic tales unfold in Cedar-Riverside, Uptown, Downtown, Linden Hills and even the city’s impound lot for unlucky car owners.
While the places may be familiar, the strength of this collection is the characters. Every story is a well-crafted slice of life that reminds us of the parallel urban worlds we encounter daily. The “dark side” is never far from the “normal.”
In Ellen Hart’s, “Blindsided,” the story is told from the point of view of a retired school teacher, Leo Anderson (“a suitably Minnesota sort of name for a boringly Minnesota sort of guy”), a lonely divorced father of two whose life has become estranged from both family and work.
The streets of Uptown in this story aren’t centered around Calhoun Square’s upscale restaurants. Rather, the streets are nearby danger zones for an elderly man going blind. Leo is saved from a mid-day street mugging by 14-year-old Ryan, far too cynical for his young age. Leo befriends the young man, and they discover a shared love for literature.
In “Taking the Bullets Out,” Mary Sharratt takes us to Cedar-Riverside, characterized as a neighborhood that “had been vibrant and alive, the Twin Cities answer to Haight-Asbury.” Neil, a nurse in HCMC’s Emergency Room, lives in the neighborhood, tending a garden that has become a peaceful escape from the mayhem that accompanied bullet victims at work, as well as the loud domestic arguments next door.
Twin Cities Noir also includes a couple of classic, period-based gang and local-gumshoe-solves-mystery stories. “If You Harm Us,” by Gary Bush, takes the reader through low-level hood Jake Kane’s return to St. Paul in the early 1930s. Prohibition had just ended, the cozy relationship between St. Paul’s cops and organized crime’s booze runners was about to end and Jake has a score to settle with a rat after spending four years in the slammer.
Larry Millett’s “The Brewer’s Son,” takes us back to 1892, “as the Republican National Convention droned toward its uninspired conclusion in Minneapolis.” Across the river, “a shocking development” unfolds as the son of St. Paul brewing magnate Johann Kirchmeyer, is mysteriously abducted. The kidnappers want $10,000 from the old man for the safe return of son, Michael. The St. Paul cops are on the case, but are no match for “saloonkeeper, bon vivant and private detective” Shadwell Rafferty, whose knowledge of the terrain, including the brewery caves, and the particular “skills” of the missing son uncover an “inside job,” motivated by a gambling debt long overdue.
Twin Cities Noir is a terrific gift for the holidays, especially for the person unfamiliar with the treasure trove of fine writers in Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding locales.