Saturday, September 27, 2014

DEADLY DEBUT: Murder New York Style

As a New Yorker, I spend so much time armchair traveling through crime fiction, reading stories and novels set in foreign countries - Britain, Sweden, Italy - or parts of the US where I don't live - Los Angeles, the South - that I sometimes forget what a great crime city my hometown is.  Sounds strange, but it's true.  When I'm looking for a mystery or a noir story to read, I think first of getting away to someplace unfamiliar, someplace that the story will allow me to explore through it.  New York City I see every day, and I don't want to spend too much of my precious leisure time submerged in the familiar.  Still, when it came to Deadly Debut, something about the New Yorker magazine styling of
the cover caught my attention. And the cover announced, "Murder New York Style."  Why not? I thought.  Stay local for a change.  Deadly Debut is a mystery anthology edited by Clare Toohey for the New York/ Tri State Chapter of SISTERS IN CRIME, and I have to say I'm glad I did pick it up.

The anthology contains seven stories written by women and for the most part centered around women. We get stories set in all five boroughs and one even set in Westchester. With each one, it's clear that the author knows her territory.  Each presents a slice of New York you may feel you know but which in fact you haven't quite seen. No overly used spots or neighborhoods among these tales. This gives the whole collection a freshness that is welcome, and as I read, I experienced the pleasant sensation I get when reading fiction set, say, abroad.  I felt, just a little bit, like I was exploring.

Elizabeth Zelvin's "Death Will Clean Your Closet," the first story, takes place in the old neighborhood of Yorkville, on the Upper East Side.  It captures quite sardonically the preoccupations of a certain kind of cramped Manhattan apartment dweller.  Closet space and the thinness of the walls can affect a New Yorker's life very much, and how well do you actually know your apparently innocuous neighbors?  You pass them every day in the hall, and all you may know is that they like heavy metal and cook a lot with garlic.  But if there's more to them than that?  This was among my favorite stories in the collection.

"The Lie", by Anita Page, is a poignant memory piece set in 1949 on the Queens-Long Island border. It's a tale of sad violence that is also about the inevitable change that comes to the area where you grew up. It goes without saying that you can't go home again.

Terrie Farley Moran's "Strike Zone" takes you back to 1961 in the northern Bronx.  It's a complex story told by an adolescent girl less interested in boys than in an author she discovers one summer - Edgar Allan Poe. She lives near the cottage Poe inhabited for years, and the master's tales of murder and obsession fascinate her.  Not coincidentally, she has fantasies of killing a teenage boy who's always hounding her as only teenage boys can.  But how can he not seem insignificant when the only boys who do interest her are Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the historic year of their great home run race?  Moran's prose is lucid and quick, and  everything ends on an appropriately chilling, Poesque note.

Overall this is a strong collection, with good variety among the authorial voices, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I also especially liked "Murder in the Aladdin's Cave", by Lina Zeldovich. The Aladdin's Cave is a go-go dancing club, the main character one of the dancers there.  It's an unusual and evocative place to set a mystery, and the murder that occurs there is a variation on the locked room type, always fun.  Zeldovich gives us a colorful cast of characters and suspects, and I had to wonder whether the hip-scarved sleuth Eve Gulnar has starred or will star in other adventures.

Deadly Debut: It's New York, it's crime, and it's entertaining. What more could you really want from a collection?