Blast Radius

Film noir at the bar: beyond the words

FEMME FATALE: Hilary Davidson reads on May 8.

A few weeks ago I attended a unique event: Noir at the Bar Toronto.

Tucked away in the upstairs of P.J. O’Brien’s in Toronto’s financial district, in a setting right out of a 1930s film noir joint, was a gathering — no, a murder of crime writers who were performing five-minute readings to a capacity crowd.

And these weren’t your usual suspects. They were some of Canada’s brightest pens of noirish lit, like Andrew Pyper of The Demonologist fame, and Hilary Davidson, who wrote Blood Always Tells, as well as John McFetridge, Howard Shrier, Owen Laukkanen and many others.

Though it was downtown, and a nationwide collection, the co-conspirator of such an event, with Caledon native Tanis Mallow, was Lawrence Park resident writer Rob Brunet.

I wrote about Brunet’s first published novel, Stinking Rich, in March. Well, he’s fully immersing himself in his craft, and this genre, with great gusto.

“It’s just another opportunity for people of like interests to connect and, frankly, to help each other,” he said in a mid-May interview. “There’s a lot of work, besides writing the words, that goes into being a writer — especially today.

He said he seizes “every opportunity” to talk to a peer about such things as handling promotion, and social media.

Brunet said the idea came from an experience he had at BoucherCon, a crime writers’ conference held annually at various cities across North America (Toronto will be host in 2017), where there were one-minute readings.

Peter Rosovsky, a writer out of Philadelphia, Pa., started the idea and, as Brunet put it, others adapted the readings at bars for their respective cities. Such writers include the likes of Jedidiah Ayres in St. Louis, Eric Beetner in Los Angeles and Todd Robinson in New York City.

“There was something about the vibe that’s created by a whole bunch of crime writers celebrating each other’s dark stories in a happy space,” Brunet said. “Some of the content is pretty brutal, and it’s delivered in a light, positive way.

“Most of the people who write this is the opposite, from what I find.”

It was Robinson who told Brunet to “just do it” when asked how someone would go about putting on a show.

Thus, the May 8 event in downtown Toronto.

This is what I love: writers side-stepping the traditional Canlit grip on anything publishable in this country, and doing their own thing. Pyper even took a swipe at Giller Award nominees in his short story about insomnia, ad libbing them as his cure to sleepless nights — to much laughter from the audience.

More is needed for genre writers in the country. As Brunet notes, they’re writing for a North American audience more than just a Canadian audience.

The next big hit for crime fiction fans comes June 6–8 when Bloody Words saturates the halls of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Brunet and Mallow will be offering another Noir at the Bar for mid-August, or early September.

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