A tongue-in-cheek mapping of the mean streets of suburbia.
In Chapman’s (The Supremes’ Greatest Hits, 2010, etc.) latest, 31 short stories mostly set in and around the greater Boston area illustrate the author’s contention that “noir is where you find it.” The conventions of the sub-genre familiar to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are mostly omitted—no guns, no drugged cocktails, no torture (except for the kind involving in-laws)—but the noir sensibility and diction are on display on each page of Chapman’s book. Colonial-style suburban homes, security guards, notary publics, bored housewives (including one who’s a bat), special agents tasked with collecting overdue lunch money—all given the noir treatment. The conceit is saved from becoming tiresome by Chapman’s fleet plotting (the stories average about five pages in length) and sure comic touch. In “Art Van Stiffel, Deciduous Tree Lawyer,” a new client is described as being “stacked like a concrete grain silo, without the dust and the pickup trucks parked outside and the risk of fatal explosion.” In “Fallen Women 101,” a college-campus pimp warns the hapless protagonist, “No rough stuff…I got to protect my investment. Besides, plain vanilla garden variety pedagogy is your best prostitution value.” In the collection’s best story, “Read My Lips, or Simply Refer to the Subtitles,” a man hires a specialist to provide subtitles for his interactions with his family, which doesn’t go over well with his loved ones: “You could cut the tension with one of those dull but fancy cheese knives women buy each other when they run out of gift ideas.” It’s ordinary suburban life that’s being satirized here, not noir, but the satire is light and gentle in any case.
There’s a chuckle or a laugh in every one of Chapman's noir-tinged stories.