edited by Joel Lane and Steve Bishop

(Tindal Street Press £6.99, pp320 ISBN 0-9535895-9-5

Reviewed by Les Hurst

It’s some years since Maxim Jabukowski produced his collection LONDON NOIR (Serpent’s Tail). BIRMINGHAM NOIR, a volume of over 300 pages, now comes from the small, local Tindal Street Press. It contains 23 stories, some from well known authors such as Judith Cutler and John Harvey, others who are appearing in print for the first time. Some are closely plotted, others are sketches. They are certainly dark, but I am not sure that they are “noir”, and although most deal with crime many are what is now more usually called “dark fantasy” or horror. (Tributes to Robert Bloch, Richard Laymon and James Herbert reinforce this impression).

Changes in Brummie society - the growing size and increased influence of the Asian community, for instance, or now the internationalisation of prostitution, or troubled homeless, mentally ill youth - appear in many stories. Judith Cutler’s “Doctor’s Orders” revolves around the abuse of an Indian wife who has brought an inadequate dowry, while Rubina Din’s “Game Without Rules” recounts a boy’s terrors about ghosts (or Djin in his culture).

John Harvey’s “Smile” and Simon Avery’s “The Art of Leaving Completely” both involve the hopelessness of trying to find a solution to the problem of East European girls brought to England and then exploited as prostitutes - at least, their protagonists fight for the girls, but fail. Zulfiqar Ali’s “Vendetta” involves a fight back, too - against drug gangsters who wreck decent areas - with some more success.

Rachel Taylor’s “Dyed Blonde” and Elizabeth Mulrey’s “Passing Over”, like Pauline Gould’s “The Way She Looks To Me” all feature psychotic characters living close to the street. Joel Lane’s “This Night Last Woman” (sic) involves something similar, though it is really just an urban myth written large.

There are one or two stories which read well, but are not new. For instance, Nicholas Royle’s “The Inland Waterways Association” features a serial murderer, whose sequence of killings beside canals comprise a bizarre work of art - which readers can foresee very early.

A couple of authors use the idea of criminals returning to the scene of their crimes, although they may hide that for some time, as happens in Mick Sculley’s “Little Moscow” and Don Nixon’s “Santa’s Grottos”. Most of these crooks want their revenge on the mates who fitted them up and sent them down.

On other hand, Paul Finch’s “Trashman”, is a story of impersonation which has a nice twist in the tail, while John Dalton’s “The Mentality” is the closest to a traditional private eye story and is well plotted as well. These couple of stories are also rare in that they move into the suburbs of Brum.

Birmingham has changed - the big items of corruption which lasted into the seventies or eighties have gone. So the abuse of the licensing laws and the motorway construction, for instance, which had a massive influence on Brum life, seem never to have been dealt with. BIRMINGHAM NOIR deals with contemporary problems, but it has not found a David Peace.