The Forgers by Bradford Morrow (The Mysterious Press) is one of those self-consciously literary novels that is cross-marketed to the mystery market thanks to its subject matter—in this case a bloody murder, a number of rival literary forgers working the antiquarian book and holographic manuscript circuit, and an unreliable narrator. Unfortunately, the book stumbles on both literary and crime fiction grounds. As a literary novel, The Forgers is too straight forward: the stilted, elevated idiolect of the narrator practically spoils the ending from the very beginning, and the one living female character in the book is reduced to the state of affable nitwit who shrugs off the violent death of her brother and the criminal career of her husband. As a crime novel, The Forgers is full of telltale flaws. The largest of these is is that the narrative universe is too small to generate any suspense. When there are five characters and one of them is dead and the other the aforementioned nitwit, that leaves us with the red herring, the guy on the phone, and the clearly unbalanced narrator.
Worst of all is when the two strands combine: the narrator’s favorite author is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle, and his special obsession is Sherlock Holmes. Couldn’t it have been Wilkie Collins instead, or any other writer, any other character, in the whole wide world? But that would be less obvious, and like a poorly copied autograph, The Forgers flaunts its obviousness on every page. —NM
Streets of Shadows, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Alliteration Ink), brings together established and new writers from the world of crime and fantasy/horror fiction for twenty-one tales of supernatural noir. Unfortunately, many of the stories are paint-by-numbers urban fantasy tales that bring nothing new to the table, like Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s ponderous treatment of a magical gun and Kevin J. Anderson’s take on a zombie private investigator. At times like these, Streets of Shadows feels like it’s phoning it in, with well-known authors treading the most obvious space between fantasy and noir. It’s also surprising how many of the stories revolved around private investigators, including a story by Seanan McGuire that unironically opens with a leggy dame entering the office of a gruff, down-on-her-luck P.I. (naturally, the dame is the Queen of the Winter). Crime fiction and fantasy have so much more to offer than werewolves and mobsters, and it was a little disappointing to see just how many stories involved common tropes that remain painfully unexamined.
Still, there are some diamonds in the rough. Standout stories include Douglas F. Warrick’s unsettling “The Man Who Has Been Killing Kittens,” an animal-torture tale that unfolds into a disturbing panorama of concealed violence just about to bubble to the surface. A story by The Big Click’s own Nick Mamatas follows the exploits of a black trans woman interrogating Occupy protestors in a living city. Paul Tremblay’s excellent new weird noir “The Large Man” takes readers on a journey into the seedy underbelly of a dystopic urban environment menaced by a villain that’s more than he seems. And while not really a noir story, Laurie Tom’s “Unfilial Child” shows the changes wrought by the gentrification of Los Angeles’s Chinatown, and what they mean for the magical beings that lurk under the city’s surface.
There is a real space for stories that break genre boundaries and in doing so defy reader expectations, but too many of the authors in Streets of Shadows take the familiar path, and the anthology is weaker for it. —ES