Violence, No Matter the Locale
Book Review by Sam Slaughter
It takes a special place in the world to juggle the vilest of the vile and the holiest of holies. In one of the latest releases in its highly lauded noir series, Akashic Books brings to light the seedier sectors of Tehran, Iran and the Sharia, the moral code of Islam that rules the city. More importantly, the stories in Tehran Noir highlight how a range of Tehrani denizens navigate the space between those two distinct sectors. Tehran Noir is a worthy addition to Akashic’s collection that spans the globe giving readers the worst of the worst from places as disparate as Cape Cod and Singapore.
For the collection, editor Salar Abdoh brings together fifteen stories that showcase despair happening in fourteen different parts of the “Seismic City.” The fifteenth story, Gina B. Nahai’s “The Gravedigger’s Kaddish” (one of the collection’s strongest pieces) is set in Tehrangles—Los Angeles being the home to many Iranis, Abdoh reminds readers. Of the stories, only two (Nahai’s and Abdoh’s story “The Whitest Set of Teeth in Tehran”) originally appeared in English.
A collection such as this is interesting on a number of levels. First, it is a well-crafted argument in favor of the idea that violence exists everywhere and that noir is not strictly an American thing. As Abdoh writes, “Most writers around the world are inclined to think that their own sprawling metropolis is the capital of every imaginable vice and crime…for me Tehran’s case is no different—except that there really is a difference here.” That difference, according to Abdol, is the watchful eye of the Islamic Republic.
That watchful eye is present in almost every story in the collection. In some way, the characters must not only navigate their urges to avenge and kill, but to do so in a way that is legal within their religion. These stories contrast in an enjoyable way with those of noir stories based, say, in the United States where the characters one meets (think of the cast of Daniel Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy) are less concerned with following religious codes than indulging in corporeal corruption and iniquity.
The quality of the stories, as with any anthology, varies somewhat. Javad Afhami’s story “The Restlessness of a Serial Killer at the Finish Line” has all the makings of a great noir story, but the prose falls flat and the story feels awkward. On the other hand, Majed Neisi’s “The Corpse Fixer” is an unsettling story that could hold its own with the biggest noir dogs from any country.
Tehran Noir is a bloody and beautiful reminder that violence is everywhere. No matter where you go in the world, you will find, if you look hard enough, the worst of the worst. You will find those with nothing left to lose and, in that, you will find what release and redemption can really mean.
Sam Slaughter is a fiction writer based in Central Florida. He serves in various editorial capacities for Atticus Review, Entropy, and Black Heart Magazine. He’s had work published in Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. His debut chapbook, When You Cross That Line, will be published in May 2015. He loves playing with puppies and drinking good bourbon.