Noir tales map out the un­der­belly of Van­cou­ver

There’s some­thing about the city that lends it­self to tales soaked in moral am­biva­lence

Toronto Star - - BOOKS - Bert Archer lived in Van­cou­ver and Vic­to­ria be­fore mov­ing east to es­cape all that mi­asma. Keep up with him @BertArcher and @world.of.bert. BERT ARCHER

The best thing about Van­cou­ver Noiris the fact that Ya­suko Thanh, Nathan Ri­p­ley and Ti­mothy Taylor are in it. Their writ­ing is worth read­ing, and orig­i­nal sto­ries can tide fans over un­til the next novel comes out. (I’m look­ing at you, Thanh.)

The sec­ond-best thing is the ta­ble of con­tents, which adds what part of town the story takes place in, along with its ti­tle and au­thor’s name. Set­tlers have been egre­giously bad at stori­fy­ing the places we live. High­light­ing that this story takes place in Kit­si­lano, that one in Vic­to­ria-Fraserview helps put a few marks on a mostly empty lit­er­ary map of Canada.

Which leads us into the next best thing about this book. Van­cou­ver is the noirest city in the coun­try, and prob­a­bly one of the noirest in the world. It’s a port city, with its stub­bornly un­gen­tri­fied neigh- bour­hoods kick­ing against one of the world’s cra­zi­est real es­tate scenes, with strong Indige­nous and Asian pres­ence as a foun­da­tional ur­ban prin­ci­ple, not to men­tion a his­tory of grue­some crime and po­lit­i­cal in­trigue. We can over­look for the mo­ment that this is the 94th in a se­ries of Noir books from Brook­lyn­based Akashic Books, and that it’s the third Cana­dian ti­tle, af­ter Mon­treal (OK) and Toronto (!), and just be glad it ex­ists, and that it will do the work to wrench Van­cou­ver’s iden­tity away from the ba­nal­ity of real es­tate into some­thing chewy, like lit­er­ary mur­der.

Col­lect­ing sto­ries un­der so spe­cific a rubric can be a trap. You don’t want mere em­u­la­tion, rat-a-tat di­a­logue you could imag­ine com­ing out of Lau­ren Ba­call or Fred MacMur­ray. But if you’re buy­ing a book of noir, you do want some noir.

Taylor strikes the right bal­ance. He’s got dark­ness, he’s got dames, he’s got moral am­biva­lence and dou­ble-crosses. But he doesn’t use any of that as a mask for ret­ro­grade treat­ment of gen­der or race.

It’s a tough brief, and there’s a rea­son the canon in­cludes only a few good hard­boiled writ­ers and noir films. Ri­p­ley (aka Naben Ruth­num) imag­ines an I Know What You Did Last Sum­mer sce­nario as if it were writ­ten for adults, and its twoline end­ing is all kinds of right. Thanh’s “Burned” gives us a glimpse of what hard­boiled writ­ing might have been if it had made real room for women.

The only real com­pe­ti­tion for Van­cou­ver as Canada’s noirest city is Win­nipeg, so I’m hop­ing that one’s in the pipe.


Peo­ple walk through a back al­ley in the down­town east­side area of Van­cou­ver, whose his­tory of grue­some crime and po­lit­i­cal in­trigue is plumbed in Van­cou­ver Noir. Each story is set in a dis­tinct neigh­bour­hood or lo­ca­tion.

Van­cou­ver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Books, 250 pages, $23.95.

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