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Editor’s Choice: Lawrence Block’s anthology ‘Dark City Lights’

Dark City Lights: New York Stories edited by Lawrence Block, Three Rooms Press, 379 pages, $18.95 paperback original. “Something to consider seriously: Two of Buffalo’s best-known literary expatriates in New York City are also two of the more dedicated 21st century proponents of literary noir. They came from entirely different literary generations, too – Lawrence Block, the grandmaster of American crime fiction, Bennett High alumnus, and editor of this volume, and Ed Park, Nichols alumnus, co-founder of The Believer, author of the comic novel “Personal Days” and editor of the much-awaited anthology “Buffalo Noir,” whose idea is similar to Block’s here, only set in Buffalo.

Is it any surprise, then, that Park’s “terrific” (Block’s word) story “Amsterdam in the ’90s” is the first story in Bloch’s anthology? Not to me.

Says Block in his forward: “If Paris is the City of Light, New York is the city of bright lights, burning nearly 24 hours a day. No wonder it’s the city that never sleeps. How could it, without ear plugs and a sleep mask? And yet it’s also the capital of Noir. Thus ‘Dark City Lights.’ ”

For those in our new millennium who require a thumbnail introduction to just what “noir” (“black” or “dark” in French) means in the fictional world, it has its origins with French critics who described 19th century English Gothic novels as “romans noirs.” When the French published some American 20th century novels in a “Series Noirs,” they more famously noted that a brilliant bunch of American films with visual, thematic and plot similarities also had one of the most important similarities of all: The people who made them never imagined they were making classics. And yet they were (see “Double Indemnity,” “Out of the Past,” etc.).

So here is an anthology of “dark” tales set in New York. “Many of them are crime stories,” says Block, but “quite a few are not,” including award-winning sci-fi favorite Robert Silverberg’s “Hannibal’s Elephant” about “visitors from outer space [who] landed in Central Park” on May 5, 2003. Writers along with Block, Park and Silverberg include Elaine Kagan, Brian Koppelman and Wall Street Journal Pop Music Critic Jim Fusilli and Parnell Hall. – Jeff Simon