cover image London Noir

London Noir

. Serpent's Tail, $11.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-85242-308-7

Only a collection of British noir fiction would give us a PI who offers his clients tea or an enforcer who, when his tibia is crunched, ``dropped to one knee like a suitor in a Jacobean play.'' Still, the London of these 15 effective, workmanlike stories is sleazy and brutal, not cozy or literary. Several ``serial authors'' are represented, such as Mark Timlin in a flat, cliched PI story, ``Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)''--his Nick Sharman does better in the novels. John Harvey's ``Now's the Time'' seems only a slice of the life of his police procedurals' protagonist, Charlie Resnick. Also fragmentary is Derek Raymond's ``Brand New Dead,'' laden with atrocious violence and the loopy metaphors of his ``Factory'' novels but without their lyricism or social criticism. A tense read is Chaz Brenchley's ``Scouting for Boys,'' a nasty tale that keeps one guessing as to whether the heartless narrator is killing off ``rent boys.'' Most of the stories, such as Molly Brown's ``Angel's Day,'' in which the last bit of humanity is wrung from an addicted hooker, are unrepentantly bleak and can become wearying; to avoid overload, the stories are best read a few at a time. But most are grimly entertaining, and together they make up a good sampler of current British crime writing. Readers attracted to the dark side of life may find it just their cup of tea. (Apr.)