Saturday, June 14, 2008

Review of Politics Noir

Politics is like cocaine. Some people can dabble with it and not get hooked, but then there are others who start by dabbling, thinking they can handle it. They think they have their shit together, so they get in a little deeper, and then a little deeper, and the next thing they know it’s 3 a.m., and they’re standing on an empty street corner under a flickering streetlight with bloody hands and empty pockets wondering how in the hell it ever went this far, how it all got away from them.

Most people instinctively know power is dangerous, and they stay away from it. They go about their lives and mind their own business. But there are those who can’t resist. They crave power, and, for this reason, they are hopelessly unsuited for the positions they seek. In real life, this is an unmitigated tragedy. It does, however, make for some great fiction.

Many people have undoubtedly reached their limit in terms of political drama this year. With Lady MacBeth and a wannabee motivational speaker competing against each other for the privilege of challenging a senile warmonger for the right to rule the Land of the Free, that is understandable. For those people who can’t get enough of this sort of thing, however, there is Politics Noir (Verso, 2008). Edited by Gary Phillips, this sharp collection of short stories is just what political junkies need for a fix. The stories are set in both the past and present, and the characters are both real and imaginary, but they all show the dark side of power and the lengths people will go to get it and keep it.

This collection is very good, and there are no real losers. Philips, who has a story in the book, did an excellent job picking his contributors. There is a story by the ubiquitous Ken Bruen that seems like a straightforward revenge tale, but is really about politics and family, and Sujata Massey has a very familiar story of a politician done in by his imprudent sexual behavior in a unique setting, and Mike Davis opens the book with a story that begins with Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover being photographed in a compromising position. There’s something in Politics Noir that will speak to all manner of crime fiction readers. If you get sick of the real thing, there’s always fiction.

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