Through a noir lens, just about everyone in Brooklyn’s a cop, cabbie, lunatic, or corpse. And those are the only people worth a damn in
Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics. This isn’t quite a literary CSI: Outer Borough, but it oozes with the same pulp. Crack it open, skip the intro, and you encounter a former police detective slipping in and out of shock as he relives monstrous crime scene horrors of underground (literally) Red Hook courtesy of master fantasist H.P. Lovecraft. Flip to the end for a dose of Gilbert Sorrentino, who illuminates the psychotic lapses a WW II veteran endures before lashing out at the NYPD.
The cast of early-to-mid-20th-century authors ranges from Thomas Wolfe, whose stunning lines of Brooklyn vernacular (“I like duh sound of duh name—Bensonhoist, y’know—so I t’ought I’d go out an’ have a look at it”) in “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” are happily reread, to Irwin Shaw, whose bare prose seems to exist only to scrape together his fringe-walking nightmare. These legends upstage the contemporary offerings, including tales by Colson Whitehead and Maggie Estep. While their pieces snugly fit the formula, it seems presumptuous to label anything so recent as “classic.” To the younger generation’s credit, their nouveau noir shells out less gratuitous violence while trapping all of the genre’s steam. Their stories are rich with sympathetic characters and sketch a more recognizable picture of the borough. They know this much: Red Hook just isn’t scary anymore.