Noir Creeps Out of the Shadows

Immerse yourself in the noir style, a renegade worldview filled with suspicion, crime and some excellent reading material.

 
Illustration by Pat Lewis

It’s a sultry night in Lawrenceville. At the Round Corner Cantina, the sangria is flowing. A siren is howling somewhere in the distance. Here, the crowd casts the occasional glance skyward. Rumor has it there’s going to be a storm tonight.

Several local authors are standing under a tent in the rear courtyard, their smiles belying the grim reason for this congregation. They’re gathered to witness a murder—several, in fact.

They came to celebrate the publication of Pittsburgh Noir, a new anthology of shadowy tales and crime fiction edited by Kathleen George. Among the writers in attendance are Hilary Masters, Lila Shaara and Tom Lipinski. They each offer a teaser to the audience, a little taste of the dark flavors to be found in their stories. Bodies fall, and books are signed. The storm crashes in, and everyone is having a good time.

But what exactly is noir? How does it differ from traditional mystery stories? Mary Alice Gorman, co-owner of Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, suggests that noir is “darker and morally ambiguous,” and “it explores those human questions that don’t have an easy answer.” Which is to say that noir is not so much a genre of writing, but rather it is understood more as a style and worldview.

Jason Baldinger, co-author of The Whiskey Rebellion, adds that noir “is the seediest elements of our natures personified in anti-heroes, such as drunks, bums and gold diggers, delivered in concise language that holds absolutely no pretense.”

Pittsburgh Noir is the latest in a series of city-based anthologies published by Akashic Books. So, how did Pittsburgh come to be counted among such dissimilar locales as Moscow, Haiti and San Diego?

“I went to Akashic with the idea because I kept seeing [an anthology] for all these cities, and I love Pittsburgh,” says George, an editor and contributor. “So, I approached them and said ‘Is Pittsburgh ever going to have one? Because I’d like to write a story for it.’ They asked me a few questions, and pretty soon, I was editing it.”

George has brought together quite a rogues gallery of local writers for the collection. Among the authors, she also lured Terrance Hayes, a poet who won the 2010 National Book Award, to turn his hand to fiction for the first time. Even more of a coup was getting a brand new tale from the legendary K. C. Constantine, breaking his near decade of silence. The secretive scribe has also been seen in public signing books at events for Pittsburgh Noir—another first.

Although Pittsburgh has a strong history of talented writers working in the crime and mystery genre—from Mary Roberts Rinehart to Nancy Martin—the city is somewhat underrepresented in the pages of noir. Is the city a natural setting for these types of stories? Gorman thinks so.  

“We have our share of dark history, mean streets and fractured souls,” she says.

Dave Newman, author of Please Don’t Shoot Anybody Tonight, offers this anecdote: “I was sitting in Dee’s a couple years ago, and some young, good-looking guy took the stool next to me and flagged down the bartender. The bartender was a woman in her early 60s with bleached-blonde hair and skin-tight, faded jeans. She’d been waiting on drunks who love to play pool all night, and she was still in a good mood. The young guy pulled out some crumpled bills and said, ‘I’ll have my usual.’ The bartender finished washing the glass in her hand and said, ‘Honey, I have no idea what the hell your usual is.’ The guy, completely devastated, mumbled, ‘whiskey,’ then pretended to be interested in the jukebox.

That’s why Pittsburgh is a great city for noir.”

As is often the case with uniquely American creations, it took critics from France to point out the field of fiction and film we currently know as noir. While noir may have begun in the 1930s with hardboiled writers such as Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, its popularity has never waned.

“Something about the renegade personality and private morality, a factor of lust,” explains George. “Seventy-five percent of the time people get away with things. It’s not your usual idea of justice.”

In his story A Minor Extinction, Paul Lee tidily sums up the project of the anthology and Pittsburgh’s own relationship to the dark mirror noir provides: “He imagined shadowy figures standing on alien riverbanks in alien Pittsburghs, each bearing the terrible weight of some tiny murder—crimes and lives and lineages as ephemeral as a dream disintegrating with consciousness.”

 *

Web extra: We asked four Pittsburghers who are rooted in the city’s noir scene to name their favorite noir novel or film. To see their answers, click on the gallery below:

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

When viewed from the foot of the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh, the stairs ascending Josephine Street form a massive image that consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty helm the refurbished restaurant at the Carnegie Museums.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

For some reason Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the latest playoff rankings and Penn State is No. 7. That has to change if Penn State beats Wisconsin on Saturday night.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Bigger isn’t always better, at least when it comes to these couples’ wedding ceremonies.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

An adapted version of “A Christmas Carol” will be presented during a seven-show run.

Comments