Book Review: Tel Aviv Noir

Tel Aviv Noir
Softcover 280 pages
Edited by: Etgar Keret & Assaf Gavron
Stories by: Etgar Keret, Gadi Taub, Lavie Tidhar, Deakla Keydar, Matan Hermoni, Julia Fermentto, Gon Ben Ari, Shimon Adaf, Alex Epstein, Antonio Ungar, Gai Ad, Assaf Gavron, Silje Bekeng, and Yoav Katz

Akashic Books continues its series of original noir anthologies, with Tel Aviv Noir. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the second most populous city in Israel, after Jerusalem, and the most heavily populated city in the city of Gush Dan, Israel's largest metropolitan area. Located on the country's Mediterranean coastline and with a population of 438,818, it is the financial and technological center of the country. 

The book contains over 14 stories written by some great authors who all have lived or currently living in Tel Aviv. The book breaks into 3 main parts/themes; Encounters, Estrangements, & Corpses. Each story in each theme takes a different tone; some dark, some on a lighter tone, and some on a sad tone. Each story ranging from love, murder, mystery, or conspiracy, you will never feel like you are reading the same kind of story, but rather a new book each time. In this review I will be tackling 1 story from each of the themes. It may not give a sense of the book as a whole, but rather give you a sense of the range each story has. This will contain minor spoilers for the stories mentioned above. 

Part I: Encounters
Sleeping Mask (pg 17) 
by Gadi Taub
Location: Beach Hotels Strip
Our story begins with our main protagonist describing a woman named Shiri who is a working girl in the area now goes by the name Nicky thanks in part of a recommendation by our narrator. The story is about how he fell in love with this woman and lost her in what felt like a dream. Our protagonist is a former defense attorney now marketing "pimp" for girls looking to advertise their services without having to walk the streets. A shop he frequently visits to buy burner phones for the ladies is where he meets the woman of dreams. At first it it starts out as friendly flirting between two adults, having a bit of fun. Then it suddenly escalated to "hey buddy I'd like to give this escort thing a shot, any tips?" Of course anyone else would have been shocked by the fact that this humble store owner would ever consider doing such a thing, but our narrator just sat her down and told her his whole process and much to charge. Of course it was no issue for him, even though he is smitten with her, it is part of his job to make sure whoever he does business with knows what they are doing. He's so smitten with her that he even suggest that she charge 1500 shekels/$412 an hour. Plus him getting a taste probably helped in confirming his suggestion as well. She reveals that her father's gambling habit has been a hinder to her business and personally since he steals as much money as possible, so with that she is willing to do what she has to do to make ends meet. 
As things go well for her financially and personally between our two lovers, now enters a client who wants to own Nicky. He has power, wealth, and influence, but he just has to have her. While many sex workers go through this, it is a story that never gets old. And for a newbie sex worker it is not a situation that you want to find yourself in. While said client never pursued her in a creepy manor, he did show his power by always sending armed guards with the car to pick her up when he called for her. After awhile she layed low and played house with our narrator, and just when things seemed to be going well the sins of her father creep around and force her to make a decision that impacts their life significantly. That decision takes her away from our narrator for months before they see each other again and even then it's bittersweet. 
While I was expecting a scumbag pimp that changes his ways for love, I was pleasantly surprised by how modern this story was. Meaning that Shiri wasn't disgusted by sex work, but rather saw it as any other job. They tackle how hard it is to be a sex worker in this day an age, especially with laws that are always targeting them and their profession. In this story they passed a law similar to here in the US where ads that advertised certain services were no longer allowed, which took away a sex worker's ability to be discreet and screen clients. I like how unabashed our narrator was when even talking about the subject of sex, he was just honest, clear, and informational vs the standard troup of being taken aback by a woman wanting to talk sex like she was talking about the weather. The heartache towards the end of story really does get you. Like true noir there isn't always rainbows at the end of the day. 

Part II: Estrangements
Who’s A Good Boy! (pg 180)
by Julie Fermentto 
Location: The Opera Tower
Our story begins with 2 best friends, Essy & Danielle, who are more like sisters than friends. The story is told through the eyes of Danielle, who both envies and pities her friend. A story about what it's like to be friends with someone who has both the best and worst luck when it comes to men. 
After a night of partying they stop off at a nearby deli where they meet a cute guy. It's less about 2 girlfriends being catty, and more about relationships with each other. Our story begins after another night of partying. The girls head to a corner store where Essy of course has the attention of a cute guy without even trying. They flirt for a bit giving Danielle the cue to make herself scarce for a few. But as soon as Danielle's back is turned, Essy has been punched in the face. Not a shout, not a grabbing of the arm, but a straight punch to the face. Apparently offering smokes to a lady was a sign of a sure thing, but while Essy may have been polite in her rejection, it still wasn't polite enough as he man felt he was owed something. Luckily things did not escalate past that and the guy left, but this was nothing new to happen Essy. This is where Danielle's envy & pity come in. On the one hand Essy is always the first one guys want to talk to, but on the other hand it somehow ends with something bad happening as well. As the morning approaches the girls are just getting to their perspective homes; later in day Essy begs, convinces Danielle that they need a change of scenery. Since they, meaning she, were having bad luck with guys in their area why not go someplace new where the guys are hotter. Essy reminds of some of my friends who love to be spontaneous at the most inconvenient times, or has more energy than you even after a night out. So of course reluctantly Danielle agrees to go but it's almost like she was in a time loop. While the change of scenery did end up going well for both ladies, it still ended the same way as that night before. Instead of a punch it was almost something that may been more traumatic. The worst part was that there was a mutual attraction to the guys the ladies met, so you would think as everyone is on the same vibe that things would go smoothly this time for Essy. It was at this point in the story that you start to feel some pity towards Danielle, because it's like she can't catch a break herself. While Essy is her bestie, it still feels like a burden on her. At the same time however, she knows no one else would be there for Essy like she would. It's the most unique things about their friendship that you come to admire. While the things might have continued to go wrong, it was still moments of their lives that will always be remembered for their time spent together.    

Part III: Corpses 

The Tour Guide (pg 205)
By Yoav Katz
Location: Nere Sha’anan
With a theme like Corpses I think you can figure out what kind of story you will be getting. The tour guide is definitely one of the more traditional Noir stories you will find in this book. It starts out like any other in Nere Sha'anan, with our protagonist Ronny doing his usual bus tour around the seedy areas of Nere Sha'anan. As a former Investigator this was something he was very familiar with. Imagine his surprise while showing the rich of Israel around there is a murder at one of his stops, but that it was the murder of someone he was close to. A comedian that he frequently ended his tours with, who he admired and loved his work was now dead. While actual investigators could not find any suspects, he was determined to find out who the culprit(s) were and why did his friend have to die. While he was trying to do that business suddenly started booming. Who wouldn't want to be on a crime tour and have an actual crime committed with real police showing up and investigating. Granted it wasn't exactly how he wanted his business to grow, it wasn't exactly going to stop him from capitalizing on it. But the death of his friend was never too far from his mind, so he did what any former Investigator would do... Knocked on the doors of people who don't like their doors being knocked on. Of course nobody knows anything, but hints are thrown out there that even if his friend was killed how would that serve their purposes "if" he owed them money. Even though warnings were given, Ronny still persisted on his quest to find the killer(s), but the more he pressed on the harder it got to do his tours. One aspect of his tours involved talks with former criminals and while they may have been reformed, with the exception of a current street walker, they aren't exactly looking for trouble either. So when word spread about him looking into the murder of his friend, those that were usually part of his tour suddenly did not feel the need to participate. And while the murder of his comic friend may not be as easy to solve he still manages to get a somewhat silver lining with the lead investigator. While she couldn't stand him in the beginning, she seemed to at least become somewhat lukewarm to him towards the end. 

The stories ranged in such various ways that it makes the book worth picking up on more than one occasion. From the heartfelt to the mysterious, Tel Aviv Noir works its magic very well. If you are a fan of short stories then this is a definite pick up. 

Pearson Education (InformIT)