The "Noir" series is hugely popular and rightfully so since the short stories are the perfect read for the odd moment here and there: doctor's waiting rooms, subway rides, sitting in a parked car while awaiting someone. The quality of the fiction varies from "city" to "city" (edition to edition) depending on who is writing and who is editing. Sometimes the draw is the city itself. It is often more enjoyable to read about a city and setting we know well. The "Noir" series gives readers a wide choice that sprawls across the world from Havana to Delhi. Without having read every book in the series, it is hard to say where "Venice Noir" fits in. It is, however, no where near as good as "San Francisco Noir" edited by Peter Maravelis, but is better in many ways than "Boston Noir," for instance.
Maxim Jakubowski edits "Venice Noir" and just the choice of city gives him a step up from the beginning. For, after all, isn't Venice the home of a great deal of literary and artistic noir? Think of the classic 1973 film "Don't Look Now" based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier or the 1981 novel "The Comfort of Strangers" by Ian McEwan, set in a city without a name but one which most readers will identify with Venice. Of course, there is always Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice," which - even if not thought of in the noir genre - certainly has the feel.
What is surprising is that it took so long for a "Venice Noir" to appear. But now that it is here and available to readers, what's the story? It can be said that it runs in the middle of the pack in terms of the "Noir" series as a whole. It is not disappointing, but it somehow doesn't live up to our expectations. There is a great deal of good, entertaining writing in this book, but not one story jumps out and proclaims itself a classic. A few days after reading the book, most of the tales are fading from mind.
For those who have been to Venice, there will be a great deal to revisit by reading these stories. If one hasn't visited the storied city, the tales will intrigue and perhaps lead to fantasies of a vacation there . . . or not. The main problem with "Venice Noir" seems that there is a thin line between noir and horror that doesn't exist in all of the "Noir" series. Some may debate that the line crosses and naturally blends; others may think that noir is a more subtle, sophisiticated and psychological exploration of horror.
Are you rigid in your definition of noir? If so, skip this book. If you are open to noir being a bit more of a fluid genre, then please - step right in! Mind the canal! We're in Venice, after all . . .