The indefatigable noir series of anthologies (Orange County Noir, Trinidad Noir, Brooklyn Noir 3, etc.) focuses in its 43rd volume on the home of Hans Christian Andersen.
“Focuses” is about right, since most of the 14 new stories treat Copenhagen as a way-station for sex slaves, down-and-outers or other lost souls. The “Savage City, Cruel City” Swedish contributor Kristian Lundberg surveys so coldly isn’t even Copenhagen but Malmø, and Gunnar Staalesen’s “Last Train from Central Station,” which best conveys the geography and mood of the city, was originally written in Norwegian. Four of the remaining stories—surprisingly varied despite their grouping into sections titled “(Men and) Women,” “Mammon” and “Corpses”—are standouts. Naja Marie Aidt’s “Women in Copenhagen” puts a fresh, depressing spin on the old tale of a hero’s futile search for his long-ago lover. Gretelise Holm’s “When It’s Tough Out There” is a tart riddle of why a society lady would suddenly turn working girl. Seyit Öztürk’s “The Booster Station” finds surprising tenderness in two boys’ discovery of a violated corpse. Benn Q. Holm’s “The Great Actor” is an escalating battle of wits between the title character and a washed-up former colleague turned cabbie. Nearly as good are “When the Time Came,” in which Lene Kaaberøl and Agnete Friis show an Ethiopian immigrant giving birth under the worst possible circumstances, and “Sleipner’s Assignment,” a curt account of how lowlifes handle private investigations.
Based on this collection, Copenhagen may be a great place to visit, but nobody seems to live there, at least not well or long.