Read Baltimore Noir Online

Authors: Laura Lippman

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Baltimore Noir

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This collection is comprised of works of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the authors’ imaginations. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Series concept by Tim McLoughlin and Johnny Temple

Published by Akashic Books

©2006 Laura Lippman

Baltimore map by Sohrab Habibion

ePub ISBN-13: 978-1-936-07019-0

ISBN-13: 978-1-888451-96-2

ISBN-10: 1-888451-96-3

Library of Congress Control Number: 2005934820

All rights reserved

Akashic Books

PO Box 1456

New York, NY 10009

[email protected]

www.akashicbooks.com

A
LSO IN THE
A
KASHIC
N
OIR
S
ERIES:

Brooklyn Noir
, edited by Tim McLoughlin

Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics,
edited by Tim McLoughlin

D.C. Noir
, edited by George Pelecanos

Manhattan Noir
, edited by Lawrence Block

Dublin Noir,
edited by Ken Bruen

Chicago Noir,
edited by Neal Pollack

San Francisco Noir,
edited by Peter Maravelis

F
ORTHCOMING:

Twin Cities Noir
, edited by Julie Schaper & Steven Horwitz

Los Angeles Noir,
edited by Denise Hamilton

London Noir,
edited by Cathi Unsworth

Wall Street Noir
, edited by Peter Spiegelman

Miami Noir
, edited by Les Standiford

Havana Noir
, edited by Achy Obejas

Bronx Noir
, edited by S.J. Rozan

New Orleans Noir
, edited by Julie Smith

Lone Star Noir
, edited by Edward Nawotka

T
ABLE OF
C
ONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Page

Introduction

PART I: THE WAY THINGS USED TO BE

L
AURA
L
IPPMAN
                                                     
Locust Point
Easy As A-B-C

R
OBERT
W
ARD
                                                      
Old Northwood
Fat Chance

J
ACK
B
LUDIS
                                                          
Pigtown
Pigtown Will Shine Tonight

R
OB
H
IAASEN
                                                         
Fell’s Point
Over My Dead Body

R
AFAEL
A
LVAREZ
                                                  
Highlandtown
The Invisible Man

PART II: THE WAY THINGS ARE

D
AVID
S
IMON
                                                        
Sandtown-Winchester
Stainless Steel

M
ARCIA
T
ALLEY
                                                   
Little Italy
Home Movies

J
OSEPH
W
ALLACE
                                            
Security Boulevard-Woodlawn
Liminal

L
ISA
R
ESPERS
F
RANCE
                                      
Howard Park
Almost Missed It By a Hair

C
HARLIE
S
TELLA
                                               
Memorial Stadium
Ode to the O’s

S
ARAH
W
EINMAN
                                                
Pikesville
Don’t Walk in Front of Me

PART III: THE WAY THINGS NEVER WERE

D
AN
F
ESPERMAN
                                                  
Fells Point
As Seen on TV

T
IM
C
OCKEY
                                                        
Greenspring Valley
The Haunting of Slink Ridgely

J
IM
F
USILL
                                                           
Camden Yards
The Homecoming

B
EN
N
EIHART
                                                       
Inner Harbor
Frog Cycle

S
UJATA
M
ASSEY
                                                   
Roland Park
Goodwood Gardens

About the Contributors

INTRODUCTION

G
REETINGS FROM
C
HARM
C
ITY

I
belong here,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Baltimore, “where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite. And I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here. That is a really happy thought and not melancholy at all.”

Fitzgerald was far from the first or last writer to feel a kinship with this mid-Atlantic city, although not all would have worded their sentiments as he did. Given that it was his wife’s psychiatric problems that drew him here, Fitzgerald, who belongs more to St. Paul than to Baltimore, can be forgiven his cynical view.

As it happened, the couple ended up buried in suburban Rockville, Maryland, but Fitzgerald’s Baltimore roots went deeper than Zelda’s consultations with the city’s best psychiatrists. He was a descendant of Francis Scott Key, who penned our unsingable national anthem, a song that Baltimoreans defend only out of civic loyalty. We can’t sing it either, but we love to shout the “OHHHHHHHHHH” at baseball games, in celebration of our beloved Orioles. Which is odd because a
ru
Baltimorean, one who speaks in the local accent known as Bawlmerese, refers to the team as the Erioles, as surely as he calls a blaze a “far” and “warshes dishes in the zink.” (Baltimore joke: Why were the three wise men covered with ashes when they came to visit the Baby Jesus? Because they came from a
far.
Guess you had to be there. Correction: Guess you have to be
here
)

Edgar Allan Poe lived here, got a boost to his literary ambitions by winning a prize here, and, far more famously, died here, creating twin mysteries—the truth of what happened to him in October 1849, and the identity of the “Poe Toaster,” who visits the original Poe gravesite on the writer’s birthday, January 19, leaving behind three red roses and a half-bottle of cognac.

John Dos Passos passed time on the North Side, as did Gertrude Stein. (With Alice B. Toklas, of course.) Ogden Nash punned and rhymed here. Dorothy Parker’s ashes were kept in a file drawer here, but only because Baltimore is the national headquarters of the NAACP, which was willed her remains.

H.L. Mencken avowed that he knew of no better place to live. Across Union Square from Mencken’s house, a boy named Russell Baker grew up. On nearby Stricker Street, Dashiell Hammett lived for a while as well, a trifecta of talent that should put Southwest Baltimore on any map of literary landmarks.

As for Baltimore’s noir pedigree—it was here that Hammett worked as a Pinkerton agent, reporting to an office in the Continental building, a downtown high-rise that happened to feature a decorative motif of carved falcons. Painted gold now, but thought to be black in Hammett’s time. Am I claiming that the Maltese Falcon was born here? Prove that it wasn’t.

Today, Baltimore is home to award-winning writers such as Anne Tyler, Madison Smartt Bell, Stephen Dixon, and Taylor Branch. But perhaps one of the more interesting developments in Baltimore’s recent literary history is the large number of crime writers that have emerged—many of them from the daily newspaper, the
Sun
, and most of them represented in this volume. No one is sure why
Sun
writers so often turn to homicide, fictional and factual; the theories are speculative at best, if not downright libelous. But it happens that
Sun
reporters have won the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Nero Wolfe, Macavity, Shamus, Barry, John Creasey, and Steel Dagger awards for their novels and short stories. Very fitting for a newspaper where James M. Cain once worked.

But then, to live in Baltimore—Bulletmore, Murderland, according to one famous piece of graffiti—is to be aware of killing; we have not enjoyed the sharp declines in homicide rates achieved by cities such as Boston and New York. We remain steadfastly in the top five, per capita, year in and year out. Statistically, two people died while I was working on this foreword.

Baltimore also has an odd geographic distinction. It is one of only two major U.S. cities that lies in no county. (St. Louis is the other.) Landlocked on every side but one, which is water, it cannot expand or annex. Squeezed this way, it is a perfect setting for noir, which depends on an almost Darwinian desperation among its players.

The Centers for Disease Control will tell you that Baltimore is the off-and-on capital of syphilis, but the true local malady is nostalgia, a romanticizing of our past that depends on much glossing and buffing, as if our history was just another set of marble steps to be cleaned. I have never forgotten listening to two colleagues at the
Sun
discuss the racism inherent in our celebration of the habits and attitudes of the Eastern European immigrants who helped to make Baltimore a great city. “Ask Thurgood Marshall how fondly he remembers Baltimore,” one said of the late African-American Supreme Court justice, who grew up here. “Ask him if any waitresses every called him
hon

The writers in this collection eschew nostalgia without sacrificing affection. They confront the full irony that is Charm City, a place where you can go from the leafy beauty of the North Side neighborhoods to the gutted ghettos of the West Side in less than twenty minutes, then find your way to the revamped Inner Harbor in another ten. Homegrown Baltimore philosopher Virginia Baker once said: “If it ain’t right and it ain’t decent, stay the hell away from it.” Alas, Virginia. Baltimore’s
no
right. Fitzgerald’s claim aside, it’s hardly even polite anymore. But for a Baltimore writer, escape is the one concept where the imagination steadfastly fails. We belong here.

Laura Lippman
February 2006
Baltimore, Maryland

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