Review: Toronto Noir

What seethes beneath T.O.’s cool politeness

Toronto Noir
edited by Janine Armin and Nathaniel G. Moore
Akashic Books (2008), 272 pp.

How noir is Toronto? It had eighty-four murders last year, and this in a population of 2.5 million. Despite its many troubles, there isn’t the natural darkness conferred on some cities. There are twenty titles in the Noir series thus far (and sixteen forthcoming), listed in what appears to be a natural order of noirness, beginning with Baltimore, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, and ending with Twin Cities Noir and Wall Street Noir. On the face of it, Toronto would seem to come somewhere near the end of this list.

But noir isn’t what actually happens in a place. It is the hidden world of the citizens, one defined by the moral ambiguity, sexual undercurrents, and homicidal thoughts that sit somewhere in the heads of all those Starbucks patrons. Noir is what happens when those thoughts become reality. What if you really did kill your husband?

Ben Mulroney makes an appearance here, in R. M. Vaughan’s wonderful story “Brianna South.” With his gleaming teeth and sunny disposition, Ben isn’t noir. But his father is noir — the hotels, bags of cash, and shifty Germans that run through his life, those moral decisions and their dreadful reckoning. Ben makes a cameo in a story about the American teenage star of a cheesy movie who’s trapped in Toronto on a promotional tour. She finds solace in the attentions of an unknown admirer. Her Toronto is mostly limited to the Four Seasons Hotel, and the noir here is almost virtual.

In Andrew Pyper’s perceptive story “Tom,” a twenty-six-year-old waitress finds herself peeping into the opulent home of a man who has been peeping into her crummy apartment. She realizes the limits of her life, a life she had imagined as “an escalation of jobs on one of the movie sets where Toronto is made to look like New York.” It is a city, she concludes, where you can look but not touch. Each city gets the noir it deserves.

Don Gillmor
Don Gillmor (@dongillmor) published his latest novel, Long Change, in 2015.

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