Ah Venice — the delicate light playing over the lagoon, the storied history, and the murder. Once again, Akashic Books releases another installment of their long-running noir series, Venice Noir. Edited by Maxim Jakubowski, this collection of short stories shows you the Venice not seen by the tourists. It’s a city slowly sinking into the lagoon and suffering a brain drain as younger residents seek work in more profitable locations. It’s a city with UNESCO World Heritage street cred yet it’s rapidly devolving into a kitschy tourist trap.
Jakubowski deserves credit for presenting a unique collection of noir tales. With the Venice setting as the theme, he offers everything from traditional police procedurals (“Commissario Clelia Vinci” by Barbara Baraldi) to more experimental works (“Little Sister” by Francesca Mazzucato). We have tales of unfortunate souls caught in bad circumstances (“Cloudy Water” by Matteo Righetto) and the story of a bad man who gets what he deserves (“Signor Gauke’s Tongue” by Mike Hodges). There is something for everyone in this anthology, a delicious sampling of tastes, styles, and stories.
The author roster is pretty impressive. It includes Mike Hodges, who directed the original Get Carter, Matteo Righetto, who cofounded the Sugarpulp literary movement, and the Anglo-Italian husband and wife team Michael Gregorio (Daniela De Gregorio and Michael G. Jacob). Jakubowski also contributes with a story that re-imagines Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, but with an unexpected twist. Another standout story is Isabella Santacroce’s “Desdemona Undicesima,” perhaps the most experimental of the lot. The story of death and murder is done with a poetic repetition of key phrases and sentences, giving the piece a strangely distant yet hypnotic flavor.
Venice Noir, under the careful eye of Maxim Jakubowski, gives the reader a sumptuous collection of dark stories, filled with murder, decadence, and betrayal. The anthology also shows how far the term “noir” can be stretched. Some see genre conventions as a straitjacket, but in this case the noir setting is a jumping off point that leads in every direction, riffed upon with the stylistic flourishes of a great jazz soloist.
Out of 10: 8.5