Toronto Noir: World Class, My Ass (Maybe)
You want a Canadian city that justifies a noir anthology, think Montreal. Seriously.
Or Vancouver. Halifax. Hull. St. John's. Yellowknife. Moncton. Sudbury. Even fucking Moose Jaw.
But Toronto? The Queen City may be a lot of things (just ask any Maple Leafs-blue Torontonian) but "noir" is not the term that immediately springs to mind. Smug, superior, self-conscious, nice, bright, clean, self-involved, anal, touristy, squeaky, brassy, well-scrubbed, tight-assed horn-tooters, T.G.I.M., world class-obsessed, faux-American... sure. The city the rest of Canada loves to hate... you bet. But noir?
Still, like I said, I haven't read it. And lord knows, the heart of darkness knows no municipal limits. After all, there's even been a Twin Cities Noir in the series. And a city whose most distinctive landmark is a giant dork certainly ought to be able to get it up. But now that the list of contributors have been released, I'm not being reassured here.
Instead of the usual reliable, if rather predictable, suspects (Bruen, Connelly, Gary Phillips, Block, Rozan, Oates, Estleman, Parrish, Abbott, Lippman, Coleman, etc.) that have made this series so consistently entertaining, the editors, Janine Armin and Nathaniel G. Moore, have opted for a slew of mostly unknown (even by Canadian standards) writers. I assume they were looking for Canadian writers, which is fine, but still...RM Vaughan, Nathan Sellyn, Ibi Kaslik, Heather Birrell, Sean Dixon, Raywat Deonandad, Christine Murray, Emily Schultz, Kim Moritsugu, Mark Sinnet, George Elliott Clarke, Pasha Malla, Michael Redhill?
Who are these guys? Was there some PC checklist? ("Okay, we got a Jew, we need an Arab. And where's our Sikh?")
Sure, they've got Peter Robinson, Gail Bowen and Andrew Pyper to reel in the curious, but the CanCrime scene is a hell of a lot stronger than that. Maybe old school champs like Engel and Wright declined, but where are writers like John McFetridge? Michael Blair? J.D. Carpenter? Mary Jane Maffini? Rosemary Aubert? John Swan? Marc Strange? Giles Blunt? All of them have written tough, often dark and certainly impressive stabs of crime fiction over the last few years, and yet not one of them shows up in these pages. Were they even asked to participate? Or weren't they "Toronto" enough?
(And, of course, even while they're all loudly touting Toronto's much vaunted multiculturalism in all the pre-release publicity, it's quite telling to note that there's not one single French-Canadian contributor. Sad, but typical. "The more that Toronto changes...")
Talk about world class disappointing...
Then again, I haven't heard of either of the authors either. I fear they may be Toronto literary types - or would-be Toronto literary types -- out to "transcend the genre." Certainly nothing in the short bios of Janine and Nathaniel on Akashic's pages suggests any previous connection whatsoever with any sort of crime fiction; much less noir.
Those who can, do. Those who can't, "transcend."
I hope I'm all wrong, and Janine and Nathaniel know exactly what they're doing, and we'll have a solid collection of noir tales that will introduce a whole slew of new and exciting voices to crime fiction readers around the world, giving the CanCrime gang a much-needed and well-deserved shot in the arm and the damn thing will sell a zillion copies.