Capsule Reviews

The Poison Artist, Jonathan Moore
ISBN 978–0‑544–52056‑1, 288pp, $24.00
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
January 2016

The Poison Artist is an only occasionally compelling composite of two of the most compelling forms of crime novel: the police procedural and the noir. We have the femme fatale and the chemistry lab full of mass spectrometers and supercomputers, tons of alcohol and a mysterious computer virus, some spiffy infodumps about how the human body processes pain and a painfully awkward sex scene that ends with the phrase “and then, finally, she burst into flames beneath him.”
Protagonist Caleb Maddox has a dark past, but not one that kept him out of Stanford. He’s a leading toxicologist and a friend to a police coroner who is dealing with a mysterious rash of bodies being fished out of San Francisco Bay. Caleb himself is obsessed with finding a striking young woman who once poured him an absinthe in a fancy bar. The narrative universe of the novel is so small that of course these two plots collide, pushing the novel into a third subgenre: psycho-thriller, but the results are more in line with the parodic script-within-a-script of The Orchid Thief than anything truly thrilling. But, for all our griping, The Poison Artist has break-out best-seller and movie deal written all over it. Just try to act surprised when your friend who doesn’t read all that much spills the beans about the twist ending. —NM

JEWISH NOIR, ed. Kenneth Wishnia
ISBN 978–1629631110, 448 pages, $17.95
PM Press
November 2015

There’s been a glut of Jewish-themed books lately, especially in YA, ones that seem to wear Jewish-ness as a trapping, as much an accessory as the novel having the love interest be a vampire, neither conscious of nor caring for the very real and living culture and traditions. So when I saw Jewish Noir,my first thought was all right, what the hell have I got to complain about now?

As it turns out, nothing. It’s a solid collection from a wide range of writers, most more-or-less writing from a uniquely Jewish perspective. Crime? Yeah, there’s a lot of crime, a lot of hard time and short luck all thematically enmeshed into Jewish roots. The particular focus of the collection, which despite my initial skepticism, I enjoyed, never felt unnecessary, but provided a commonality between the wildly different voices that flowed well throughout. Like most anthologies, a couple of the stories towards the middle felt like filler, but several — perhaps most notably in the first story in the collection, R.S. Brenner’s “Devil for a Witch”— ended on neatly executed little screwturn gut-punches, which is the kind of feeling I look for in a noir. Like the editor says, if you’re looking for the hardboiled, the rootless, the persecuted and the cornered, you don’t have to look much further than the Jews, so what better thematic match could there be? —RRS

About the Author

The Editors

Jeremiah Tolbert is a web designer, writer, and photographer living in Tonganoxie, Kansas.

Nick Mamatas is a writer and editor living in Berkeley, California.

Seth Cadin is an East Bay artist and editor who also sometimes trades stories for money.

Molly Tanzer writes and edits in Boulder, Colorado.



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