Mystery queenpin Lippman and cohorts dissect their city with a vengeance.
Brand New Stories by: David Simon, Laura Lippman, Tim Cockey, Rob Hiaasen, Robert Ward, Sujata Massey, Jack Bludis, Rafael Alvarez, Marcia Talley, Joseph Wallace, Lisa Respers France, Charlie Stella, Sarah Weinman, Dan Fesperman, Jim Fusilli, and Ben Neihart.
Mystery fans should relish this taste of Baltimore's seamier side, the eighth volume in Akashic's series showcasing dark tales of crime and place (Brooklyn Noir, etc.). Editor Lippman offers both a fine introduction and the lead story ("Easy as A-B-C"), which is one of the anthology's best. Half of the 16 contributors have connections to the Baltimore Sun, including David Simon of Homicide fame, whose "Stainless Steel" is a noir gem. Baltimore (aka "Bulletmore, Murderland") is a diverse city, and the stories reflect everything from its old row houses and suburban mansions to its beloved Orioles and harbor areas. There's dark humor in Dan Fesperman's "As Seen on TV," as well as in Tim Cockey's noir ghost story, "The Haunting of Slink Ridgely." Charlie Stella's mob story, "Ode to the O's," is brutally direct, while Ben Neihart's "Frog Cycle" offers a futuristic take on the high-tech industries springing up in place of factories. Other contributors include Marcia Talley, Jim Fusilli and Sujata Massey. (May)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
April 30, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Baltimore Noir by Laura Lippman
Another house collapsed today. It happens more and more, especially with all the wetback crews out there. Don't get me wrong. I use guys from Mexico and Central America, too, and they're great workers, especially when it comes to landscaping. But some other contractors aren't as particular as I am. They hire the cheapest help they can get and the cheapest comes pretty high, especially when you're excavating a basement, which has become one of the hot fixes around here. It's not enough, I guess, to get the three-story rowhouse with four bedrooms, gut it from top to bottom, creating open, airy kitchens where grandmothers once smoked the wallpaper with bacon grease and sour beef. It's not enough to carve master bath suites from the tiny middle rooms that the youngest kids always got stuck with. No, these people have to have the full family room, too, which means digging down into the old dirt basements, sending a river of mud into the alley, then putting in new floors and walls. But if you miscalculate by even an inch--boom. You destroy the foundation of the house. Nothing to do but bring the fucker down and start carting away the bricks.
It's odd, going into these houses I knew as a kid, learning what people have paid for sound structures that they consider mere shells, all because they might get a sliver of a water view from a top-floor window or the ubiquitous rooftop deck. Yeah, I know words like ubiquitous. Don't act so surprised. The stuff in books--anyone can learn that. All you need is time and curiosity and a library card, and you can fake your way through a conversation with anyone. The work I do, the crews I supervise, that's what you can't fake because it could kill people, literally kill them. I feel bad for the men who hire me, soft types who apologize for their feebleness, whining: I wish I had the time. Give those guys a thousand years and they couldn't rewire a single fixture or install a gas dryer. You know the first thing I recommend when I see a place where the "man of the house" has done some work? A carbon monoxide detector. I couldn't close my eyes in my brother-in-law's place until I installed one, especially when my sister kept bragging about how handy he was.
The boom in South Baltimore started in Federal Hill twenty-five years ago, before my time, flattened out for a while in the '90s, but now it's roaring again, spreading through south Federal Hill and into Riverside Park and all the way up Fort Avenue into Locust Point, where my family lived until I was ten and my grandparents stayed until the day they died, the two of them, side by side. My grandmother had been ailing for years and my grandfather, as it turned out, had been squirreling away various painkillers she had been given along the way, preparing himself. She died in her sleep and, technically, he did, too. A self-induced, pharmaceutical sleep, but sleep nonetheless. We found them on their narrow double bed, and the pronounced rigor made it almost impossible to separate their entwined hands. He literally couldn't live without her. Hard on my mom, losing them that way, but I couldn't help feeling it was pure and honest. Pop-pop didn't want to live alone and he didn't want to come stay with us in the house out in Linthicum. He didn't really have friends. Mee-maw was his whole life and he had been content to care for her through all her pain and illness. He would have done that forever. But once that job was done, he was done, too.
My mother sold the house for $75,000. That was a dozen years ago and boy did we think we had put one over on the buyers. Seventy-five thousand! For a house on Decatur Street in Locust Point. And all cash for my mom, because it had been paid off forever. We went to Hausner's the night of the closing, toasted our good fortune. The old German restaurant was still open then, crammed with all that art and junk. We had veal and strawberry pie and top-shelf liquor and toasted grandfather for leaving us such a windfall.
So imagine how I felt when I got a referral for a complete redo at my grandparents' old address and the real estate guy tells me: "She got it for only $225,000, so she's willing to put another hundred thousand in it and I bet she won't bat an eyelash if the work goes up to $150,000."
"Huh," was all I managed. Money-wise, the job wasn't in my top tier, but then, my grandparents' house was small even by the neighborhood's standards, just two stories. It had a nice-size backyard, though, for a rowhouse. My grandmother had grown tomatoes and herbs and summer squash on that little patch of land.
"The first thing I want to do is get a parking pad back here," my client said, sweeping a hand over what was now an overgrown patch of weeds, the chain-link fence sagging around it. "I've been told that will increase the value of the property ten, twenty thousand."
"You a flipper?" I asked. More and more amateurs were getting into real estate, feeling that the stock market wasn't for them. They were the worst of all possible worlds, panicking at every penny over the original estimate, riding my ass. You want to flip property for profit, you need to be able to do the work yourself. Or buy and hold. This woman didn't look like the patient type. She was young, dressed to the nines, picking her way through the weeds in the most impractical boots I'd ever seen.
"No, I plan to live here. In fact, I hope to move in as quickly as possible, so time is more important to me than money. I was told you're fast."
"I don't waste time, but I don't cut corners," I said. "Mainly, I just try to make my customers happy."
She tilted her head, gazing at me through naturally thick and black eyelashes. It was the practiced look of a woman who had been looking at men from under her eyelashes for much of her life, sure they would be charmed. And, okay, I was. Dark hair, cut in one of those casual, disarrayed styles, darker eyes that made me think of kalamata olives, which isn't particularly romantic, I guess. But I really like kalamata olives. With her fair skin, it was a terrific contrast.
"I'm sure you'll make me very happy," was all she said.