Noir fiction can be defined as crime fiction with dark themes, often featuring “a disturbing mixture of sex and violence.” The stories of West Jerusalem Noir (Akashic Books, November 2023) are somewhat tamer; their protagonists are confronted with the dark complexities of living in a city filled with national, religious, and socioeconomic tension.
West Jerusalem Noir of the Akashic Noir Series is published simultaneously with East Jerusalem Noir, a companion collection that tells of the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of Jerusalem’s Arab residents, their lives vastly different from those living in the western half of the city.
In West Jerusalem Noir, the story ‘You Can’t See the Occupation from Here’ by Ilana Bernstein takes place on the Israeli side of the city. The protagonist works in a secret lab on Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, where she’s filling in for a translator on maternity leave. Working in the lab “involves quite a few sacrifices,” she thinks. “Those who come in here don’t leave so quickly.” A Palestinian woman, complete with a “floral pink and cerulean hijab” is reportedly the CEO of the company. But what about national security? the protagonist wonders. Nothing is as it seems.
In the story “Arson,” by Ilan Rubin Fields, police investigate whether someone set fire to the trees flanking the gardens of Peace Park, near Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood. In possibly the best story in the anthology, “Chrysanthemums” by Asaf Schurr, a father takes it upon himself to cover up his daughter Michal’s crime. “You didn’t kill anyone, you hear me?” he admonishes her. “I’ll take care of everything, understood?”
The heroine of “Murder at Sam Spiegel” by Liat Elkayam wakes up in a small room in the famed film and television school to find a student filmmaker “on a swivel chair, his head hanging backward at a completely inhuman angle … a long river of blood snaking from his stomach.” This launches the protagonist into detective mode, but the investigation is more than she can handle.
In Elkayam’s story, an entry ramp to the Jerusalem Cinematheque is sprayed with graffiti declaring “Jerusalem – a city held together with masking tape.” The stories of the collection are taped together by their Jerusalem setting. While some readers may find the book disjointed, with unsatisfactory plots and endings, many of the stories will leave much to think about.
The collection’s editor, Maayan Eitan, says they take place in a “concrete, contemporary, and complicated Jerusalem.” She is correct in stating that the 15 stories included in West Jerusalem Noir “could not have taken place anywhere else.” Indeed, readers will have a “chance to visit Jerusalem like they’ve never seen it before.”