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Film noir is a particular passion of mine, so naturally
throughout the years I’ve turned to its literary cousin—Dashiell Hammett,
Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane in particular. So much can be done within
that framework that it’s practically inexhaustible in the hands of good
writers. And Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann’s Men of the Mean Streets has
good writers in spades—Sam Spades, that is.
Of course, Men of the Mean Streets has a nicely queer
spin to the tales, akin to the recently-reviewed queering of Sherlock Holmes, A
Study in Lavender. Given such a spin, the writers in both books seem to be
freed from the conventions of their predecessors to create wonderfully intriguing
scenarios with rich characters.
Take the powerhouse trio that opens this collection as an
example: ‘Nathan Burgoine’s “Keeping the Faith” is an incredibly successful
foray into hard-boiled religious philosophy as a priest visits a detective to
discover who has stolen his faith while Rob Byrnes’ “Patience, Colorado”
explores more than mere genre tropes as his hero is set up by a small town
gayboy longing to hit the streets of San Francisco. And then there’s “Mouse,”
by Jeffrey Round, a deftly drawn character study of two brothers and the
chilling incident that changed their lives forever.
All three of these gems are fascinating reads that make the
most of noir-ish elements as well as queer life. But as terrific as they are,
they’re only the beginning. Michael Thomas Ford turns in a bravura performance
with “Faithful,” which sees a mob wife taking on an enemy family—in more ways
than one—to secure her husband’s safety, with a wicked-ass twist at the end.
And Greg Herren’s “Spin Cycle,” about a man driven to murder by laundry is
creepily hysterical. Jeffrey Ricker’s “Murder on the Midway” is a neatly
plotted gumshoe epic, and the editor-turned-murderer in Max Reynolds’ “The Thin
Blue Line(s)” is a hapless victim who turns the tables on one of his writers.
There are other marvelous pieces here as well, including
Neil Plakcy’s graphic and twisted “An Appetite for Warmth,” Josh Aterovis’ “The
Case of the Missing Bulldog” and even a spec-fic noir (“Imago Blue”) from the
ever-inventive Felice Picano. No matter what your taste for mystery is like, Men
of the Mean Streets is likely to take you for a long ride with a big gun.
I can hardly wait to start its distaff counterpart, Women
of the Mean Streets, but I need to let in a little light before I read any
Otherwise, I’ll lose my summer tan.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler