Print Edition: July 1, 2015
As a regular reader of crime and noir fiction, the last thing I expected when I picked up The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir was the strange, surreal, fantastic, and horrific tales I discovered within. I expected the classic hardboiled protagonist, either gumshoe or crook, and a femme fatale mixed up in some disturbing turn of events. What this collection of short stories contains is close to my ideal, and as the forward states: “Noir… has never been a genre so much as a tone, an overlay, a mood.” The collection shoots out from there, with each story delving into numerous other genres and doing surprisingly well in the mix.
The volume contains 22 short stories, each one unique. Although there are always a few stories within an anthology that are unremarkable or worthy of being skipped, I found that New Canadian Noir had very few misses. Every story had a punch to it, and stuck with me long after reading. There was a story, for instance, about a man who commits cannibalism as an underground sport. The tale went into detail about how he warms up for each match and how he keeps his stomach large enough to consume most of a single man. Horrific and wild, this left a strong impression on me — mostly because it disturbed me, but also because it reawakened my own thoughts on the limits of the graphic nature of the genre. Also included was a tale of a polar bear drug ring amusingly titled “Nunavut Thunderfuck,” a story about a zombie detective trying to save the living, a story of a woman in blue with a blackened soul who fights soul-sucking, doppelgänger lamprey, a tale of a genetically altered beast-man who defends a housing complex from demolition, and so many others.
Despite the large number of fantastical tales, there were still a good number that hewed closer to reality. The idea of an old Chinese lady who spends her time collecting bottles for survival beating in the head of a man after wrapping it in a garbage bag is disturbing in its own right. On top of the violence, that story and many others also calls into question horrors of a societal nature. There was the tale of a shop owner who watched his store dwindle due to tax regulations on sandwich boards before ending up on the streets. There was a story where a boy working the garbage disposal in an apartment building finds sinful objects as they are discarded anonymously, pondering the nature of the people they originated from.
The editors of this book, Claude Lalumière and David Nickle, clearly had a strong vision when conceiving this book. Each entry has strong writing, and tarries little. It was the kind of volume where each story is fulfilling in its own way without leaving a sour after-taste. For those who enjoy good genre fiction, and crave some short adventure or mystery, I’d highly recommend this volume. Not only is it all Canadian, it’s smart and hard boiled.