A Noir Mystery With Multiple Authors


Destination: New York: Manhattan and the Hamptons

Book: Inherit the Dead by A whole bunch of mystery writers. (Introduction by Lee Child)

Surely we can come up with a better word than “bunch” for a group of mystery writers? An enigma of writers? A suspicion of writers? Leave your suggestions in the comment section.

Film noir hotel room

Union Square Hotel’s Dashiell Hammett Suite

Twenty chapters–each by a different mystery writer.  See one of your favorites here?

  • Mary Higgens Clark
  • Charlaine Harris
  • John Connolly
  • C. J. Box
  • Heather Graham
  • Max Allen Collins
  • Lisa Unger
  • Johnathan Santloffer
  • Stephen L. Carter
  • Marcia Clark
  • Sarah Weinman
  • Brian Gruley
  • Alafair Burke
  • James Grady
  • Ken Bruen
  • S. J. Rozan
  • Dana Stabenow
  • Val McDermid
  • Mark Billingham
  • Lawrence Block

I certainly did have a few favorites, but I also discovered the writing of some new-to-me writers that I now need to explore. Reading each writer’s short bio is nearly as intriguing as the book itself.

This is a repeat of previous efforts by a force of mystery writers, and is undertaken in good spirits with a worthy cause in mind. Some of the price of this noir mystery goes to support an organization that helps victims of crimes, Safe Horizon.

This time out, they decided to channel the past great writers of noir mystery.  Obviously with so many writers of so many native styles, some are more successful at achieving noir status than others.  They are playing the old game where you go around the circle and each person adds something to the story.  The result is one mostly cohesive story that usually makes sense and moves forward. As noir goes it is pretty tame. Only two really stirring action scenes and no really hot love scenes (dancing doesn’t county, guys).

I don’t know if it was one of the rules, but each writer seems compelled to introduce a new character, which can get a bit unweildly and for some reason, one writer decided to announce that the detective had discovered the murder, but in the next chapter that thread of thought was dropped.  But you don’t read this book expecting a cohesive Dashiell Hammett tale. Part of the fun is trying to figure out how twenty writers could keep this same narrative thread going at all–even if it wanders form time to time.

One of the things I was very aware of as I read through this book, was that some writers pulled me effortless through the story, while with others, I was constantly pausing to wonder why they were doing what they were doing and feeling it didn’t quite make sense. I was pleased and a bit surprised to discover that the writer I found the easiest to read–the one who seamlessly moved the story forward without reminding me that I was reading a patchwork, was a writer I had already reviewed here–C. J. Box.  I was equally pleased to discover a writer I have not read who impressed me mightily with her contribution–Lisa Unger.

Ever notice the class-consciousness in noir mystery novels? The private eye is barely scraping along, but his business mostly consists of very wealthy clients. Unger introduces a subtle version of this. Contemplating the difference between the rich and the rest of us, P.I. Perry sees a woman with a poodle in a luxury apartment foyer. He looks at the doorman.

But the guy had the same look as the poodle, owned by wealth.  Pampered, in a sense, manicured by association, well kept.  Perry strode over to the desk and locked the other man in his hardest, nowhere-to-hide cop stare, and was gratified to see the other man squirm.  A poodle, while smart enough, was no match for a pit bull. And there was much less blood shed if everyone knew this going in.

I really loved the direct references to noir in the contribution of Val McDermid a Scottish author whom I have not read previously.

There had been something dramatic, almost film noir, about the places this commission had taken him so far.  He usually dismissed high-flown romantic ideas like that as idle fantasies designed to make him feel better about the routine repetitiveness of the job.  But being confronted with a woman who could have stepped out of the pages of a Dashiell Hammett was deeply unsettling.

And it was Hammett that came to mind,not Chandler.  

Now there, I thought, is an author who cares deeply about the nuance of style.

There were others who appealed to me and some that I put on my DO NOT read list, based on performance here, but I don’t want to prejudice your own reading of the book. Suffice it to say that among the twenty-one (counting the introduction) these authors probably hold more than 200 major writing awards.

Do buy Inherit the Dead–its a good cause and a fun and novel exercise in deconstructing noir.

(The publisher sent me this book for review, which is usual practice, and does not influence my thoughts.)

Vera Marie Badertscher

Travel and lifestyle writer, wife, mother and grandmother. Publisher of A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors in Aprons>. Also co-authored a biography of Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.