Dark City Lights: New York Stories
DARK CITY LIGHTS is a short story anthology that, interestingly enough, is Part Four of the Have a NYC series. I will confess to being unfamiliar with the first three volumes, an omission that I intend to rectify on the strength of this latest installment. It attracted my attention due to the presence of author extraordinaire Lawrence Block at the editing helm. Block is incapable of doing anything badly, even at this late date in his career, and the 23 stories that comprise DARK CITY LIGHTS demonstrate that he brought to the selection process the same care that he brings to his own fiction.
The book presents 21 original stories and two reprinted ones (more on that in a moment), unified not so much by mystery or crime fiction as they are by geographical setting. It is a given that New York will never exhaust itself as a setting for stories, and each of the tales selected for DARK CITY LIGHTS finds a different vein to mine from that very large and diverse mountain. This fulfills half the task that an anthology of this sort must face; the other is to provide an interesting mix of authors, both better- and lesser- known. Block does this quite well; mystery and thriller aficionados will find familiar names here, but undoubtedly will become newly acquainted with others. One cannot ask for better.
"Block is incapable of doing anything badly, even at this late date in his career, and the 23 stories that comprise DARK CITY LIGHTS demonstrate that he brought to the selection process the same care that he brings to his own fiction."
Block himself offers a reprint of “Keller the Dogkiller,” featuring his assassin-for-hire in an unusual situation with an interesting resolution. You probably have already read this story if you are acquainted with Block, but it is worth rereading. If this is your first exposure to the man, however, you’ll want to start digging into his backlist immediately. The other reprint is by science fiction grandmaster Robert Silverberg. When Silverberg wrote “Hannibal’s Elephants,” 2003 was in the somewhat distant future. While his vision of Manhattan just after the turn of the 21st century doesn’t get everything right, his account of the reaction to an extra-terrestrial invasion of Manhattan is about as spot-on as can be. I used to read a lot of science fiction back in the day, and Silverberg was at the top of my must-read list. Stories like this was the reason why.
With respect to the first-look stories, every one of them has something or another to recommend it. A couple of them made me scream, which is my highest praise. “Bowery Station, 3:15 AM” by Warren Moore is the spider that drops into your lap during dessert. In a short story, timing can be everything, and Moore nails it with this tale of a late-night good samaritan who thwarts a suicide attempt. I will definitely check out Moore’s BROKEN GLASS WALTZES when time permits. David Levien’s “Knock-Out Whist” is a surprise entry here, if only because Levien so carefully mines Indianapolis in his fine series of crime thrillers. But he brings his trademark dark chops to New York in this claustrophobic tale of crime in high-rises and elevators.
Equally deserving of high, though quieter, appreciation is “The Dead Client” by Parnell Hall. It’s tough to wring suspense out of a legal thriller with limited page space, but that’s just what Hall does, in a story that takes place back during the dawn of time, when lawyers were first permitted to advertise.
There are handfuls of great stories in DARK CITY LIGHTS, but if I had to pick a winner, it just might be the wonderfully titled “The Soldier, The Dancer, and All That Glitters.” Tom Callahan begins with an opening sentence that you’ll never forget --- even if you want to --- and ups the ante from there in a crime story full of people you would never want to meet in places you would never want to patronize. What higher praise is there?
It would be easy to go on and on and on, considering there are stories from New York stalwarts Jim Fusilli and S.J. Rozan, a welcome new offering from Jonathan Santlofer, and journeymen authors from Bill Bernico to Thomas Pluck. But I won’t. Pick up DARK CITY LIGHTS --- and its predecessors --- and see what the excitement is all about.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 1, 2015