Twenty gritty stories riff on Bruce Springsteen’s song about a small-town hustler.
“Meeting Across the River,” from the Born to Run album (celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), begins: “Hey, Eddie, can you lend me a few bucks / And tonight can you get us a ride . . . . ” The song’s narrator is planning a last-chance hustle across the river so he can make some quick bucks and get back in good with his girl, Cherry, who’s sore that he took her radio and hocked it. The stories here, most written by seasoned mystery and thriller authors who are also devotees of the Boss, offer tangled reconfigurations of similar criminal intrigues. Taking their cue from the song’s film-noir tone, they feature lots of action in bars and stakeouts in cars. Naturally, many occur in New Jersey and New York City, but some transport us to such non-Springsteen locales as St. Paul, Minn. (William Kent Krueger’s “The Far Side of the River”), Montana (C.J. Box’s “Pirates of Yellowstone”), San Francisco (David Corbett’s “Bobby the Prop Buys In”), and Tecate, Mexico (Philip Reed’s “Claustrophobia”). In “Killing Time by the River Styx,” Peter David’s characters are already dead-by-shootout and waiting to be ferried across to Hades by Charon. Time has not been good to these characters; in many of the stories the narrator and Eddie meet again years after the betrayal of their friendship. (“And if we blow this one,” goes the song, “They ain’t gonna be looking for just me this time.”) Eddie is finishing a 25-year prison term in Randy Michael Signor’s “Crossing Over” when he spots the friend he took the rap for pumping weights in the yard. Two authors let the angry girlfriend tell her side of the story. In Pam Houston’s “Cherry Looks Back,” she bemoans her rotten taste in men. “The Other Side” by Aimee Liu remakes her into a published author named Cherie who recognizes her old flame at a book signing.
Dark, creative visions worthy of the music that inspired them.