Boston native Dennis Lehane avoids genre clichés in his selections for the anthology Boston Noir.
You say that noir is often a working-class tragedy. What do you mean?
Noir is a tragedy about people who are squeezed by circumstance. I'm not a big believer in genre labels, but I do believe there's a clear delineation between noir and crime fiction or mystery. For this anthology, I wanted authors who are writing noir who don't think it's about a fedora or some ham-fisted tough guy. Those are just the trappings.
What did you want to accomplish in editing this book?
I'm a passionate lover of good short fiction, but I know why people have turned away from short fiction—because of the kind that's read mainly by academics. That kind is not in this volume. These are self-contained “baby” novels, full stories, not lopped off before the end.
And short stories and noir make a good combination?
I thought the perspectives in the collection were really interesting—the anti-Boston perspective in Jim Fusilli's story [about a transplanted New Yorker] and the old Boston in Russ Aborn's story [about a truck hijacking gone wrong]. And Patricia Powell's story about a black woman who shelters a white jail escapee really kicked ass.
Why no city hall corruption story like what Edwin O'Connor depicted in The Last Hurrah?
I thought it would appear, but nobody touched it. I wonder if that kind of Boston writer has gone the way of the dodo. I flirt around the edges of that, but don't really go there. Maybe there's a less boisterous political scene to write about now.
What Boston novel has influenced you most?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. It's the game changer because of the authenticity of the dialogue and the sense that this was how the criminal underworld really worked, stripped of all romantic or heroic clichés. Without it, by his own admission, there's no Elmore Leonard. On a personal level, Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark are two of the biggest influences on my work. So, without The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I don't get my major influences.
Did you learn anything new about Boston by doing this?
I learned that the clichés about Boston aren't true, even the new ones. It's become a diverse and different city. When we mourn losing a certain clan identity, we have to remember that the same broom that swept away the old city allows black people to be walking down Broadway in [once hostile] South Boston.