Verdict: BLOOD BUSINESS is a uniformly good anthology of noir stories in which the authors are able to inject some life, of the supernatural variety, into a genre usually rife with clichés.
Every generation declares the noir genre exhausted. This declaration began with Raymond Chandler, who believed he had surpassed the model established by Dashiell Hammett, by injecting a poetic quality and atmosphere of a lurking sinister conspiracy into the mix. From there, he believed there was nowhere else to take the genre. For a while, it seemed Chandler was correct. Ross MacDonald, a self-described pupil of Chandler, who, despite the addition of scholarly language and incest, shamefully plagiarized Chandler’s theme of street-smart Galahads taking on bent cops and corrupt city officials bought off by evil millionaires.
But then along came William Hjortsberg, who, in the novel Falling Angel, moved the genre forward by including a supernatural theme. Hjortsberg took Chandler’s sinister conspiracy and made it even more sinister by having it run by Satan himself. The detective who sought to defend those framed by a corrupt society was now framed by Satan himself; the purpose of which was to drag the protagonist to Hell via the electric chair.
Overall it is the authors who attempt this risky combination of noir with the supernatural that emerge as the best in BLOOD BUSINESS. The best story in this regard is penned by Alyssa Wong. Wong equips her private eye with not only the requisite street smarts and obsessive quest for justice but also with an ability to communicate with the dead. The private eye’s client is a dismembered murder victim; from which Wong lightly and thus effectively makes literal the detective’s symbolic task of “putting all the pieces together” (quotation marks mine).
But those who stay in the earthly realm also achieve some admirable effects. Gary Jonas is almost able to match Chandler’s diamond-sharp dialogue (the girlfriend of a hit man shops for “bullets and burritos”). And despite the 80s real-life theme of televangelists embezzling money from their parishioners to purchase drugs and prostitutes, Mark Stevens is still able to unsettle the reader with an evil preacher.
Edmund Wilson once located Ernest Hemingway’s mastery of the short story in how the form catered to his strengths of providing a dramatic punch and did not require character development (which Wilson saw as the writer’s greatest weakness). But in Blood Business some of the authors are able to achieve both.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader