Josh Pachter


Review: Amsterdam Noir

Amsterdam Noir

An early 2019 entry in Akashic Books’ award-winning noir series, Amsterdam Noir, features stories selected by Rene Appél and Josh Pachter. Pachter, being a writer himself, ably translated many of them from the Dutch. The volume is cast in four thematic sways, each inspired by a film noir classic.

Part 1: Out of the Past begins as past and present are juxtaposed in “Welcome to Amsterdam” by Michael Berg. The dehumanizing abuse of a prisoner in Syria seems worlds away from a business trip from New York to Amsterdam. But when a uniting element suddenly appears, the horrors of the past rush forward, giving rise to a new assault on our traveler’s haunted dreams. Berg won the Golden Noose, the award for the best Dutch-language crime novel in 2013.

“Spui 13” by Anneloes Timmerije is a beautifully written tragedy, “inspired by an actual Amsterdam murder case,” that spirals downward toward dark waters. Lifelong friends Ella and our unnamed narrator, grow from struggling college students unable to pay the rent, to successful careers—Ella a high-profile newspaper reporter, and our narrator, a publisher’s proofreader. Extravert and introvert. When Ella is kidnapped, events from the past they can never forget, bring the realization they can never escape either.

In “Ankle Monitor” (translated by Sam Garrett), author Herman Koch delivers a chilling first-person account of obsession with intent. A convicted felon turns sour on his biographer when he imagines the journalist’s interview sessions with his ex-wife. His controlled behavior takes a furlough along with his incarceration for a weekend on the outside. Tension builds as his cunning shines in his final confining moments.

“Salvation” by Simon de Waal (translated by Maria de Bruyn) provides a salacious tour of Amsterdam’s Red-Light District, the backdrop against which his protagonist, the roiled and wrung Waldemar, attempts to sort past and present, fact and figment. His struggle centers on a slain prostitute and the stains she left behind. A melancholy, beautifully written tragedy.

Part 2: Kiss Me Deadly Romance plus noir must equal heartache, so fair warning. In “The Tower” by Hanna Bervoets there is romance, and there is sorrow. I can’t think of a way to summarize the plot without giving too much away. Instead, let’s consider it from a greater distance. Why read a story you suspect will break your heart? And why do you think it was so good when it made you feel so sad? Like all fiction, it’s vicarious. Real enough to evoke emotion, but not so personal that you can’t walk away. In fact, it’s a relief you can. Maybe it’s teaching a life lesson you don’t have to learn the hard way, let the characters take the hit. Still, some heartaches are worth the pain for those moments of joy that precede them. Figuring out which ones are which is the hard part.

As “Silent Days” by Karin Amatmoekrim opens, its hero, an 82-year-old woman, observes the world below and around her fourth-story apartment, uninvolved—a watcher. But the world intrudes on her silent solitude when the building’s owner and his wife begin to quarrel, loudly and violently, one flight below. The sounds and sight of her battered neighbor break the old woman’s reclusive trance, and she chances a meeting. “After that conversation, I was determined to help her. I had done nothing in my life for which I needed to be embarrassed, but also nothing to be proud of. This, as I neared my finish line, would be my gift to the world.”

“Soul Mates” by Christine Otten is based on an actual murder case in Amsterdam, so to say it’s a bit far-fetched could be fictitious. But it seems like it anyway. A twenty-four-year-old food delivery boy writes about the early-morning visit from the police, who wonder what he knows about the murder and dismemberment of his boss, the old Chinese cook who runs the Mercury Snackbar. He tells the two detectives nothing helpful, sharing his own theory about the real victim and the murderer with readers via his journal. It’s a bit too graphic and snarky for my taste.

Part 3: Touch of Evil The unifying element in this section is the movie’s title. In “Devil’s Island” by Mensje van Keulen, most of the story’s action takes place inside smoking groups where Amsterdam smokers gather to indulge their habit. Like dining on Amtrak, you never know who you might meet. Our narrator’s friend, Jacob, has had a devastating breakup with his girlfriend. In sympathy, he takes Jacob to dinner, and since Jacob smokes, stands with him in the smoker’s circle outside the restaurant while they wait for a table. Here they meet at art dealer who quickly mesmerizes Jacob with his accouterments of success and accounts of twisted deeds. Incredibly, Jacob remains with the hustler when their table is called, his fate clinched in a beguiling, evil snare.

“The Man on the Jetty” by Murat Isik begins with Metin’s memory of a man exposing himself in an elevator. Sometime later Metin and his pal Saleem are approached by a Spandexed biker asking directions. Saleem responds as recognition dawns on Metin: it’s the same guy. And the Spandex makes it easy to spot what’s still on his mind. The two boys run, but the biker gives chase until, at last, he turns away. When the boys tell Saleem’s Uncle Imran what’s happened, they can see his anger rise. The Dutch police won’t do anything about it. “In Pakistan, the cops would beat the shit out of a bastard like this guy. Then he’d never do such a thing again.” So Imran takes matters into his own hands. By the end, they’ve all been touched by evil.

What comes after a windfall? “Lucky Sevens” by Theo Capel gives us a few clues when Fetty Jollema wins fifty thousand euros in the lottery. While her cop friend Felix cashes in her ticket, she’s murdered. Felix is dumbfounded when he hears the news but recovers enough to ferret away the winnings in his safe. As the investigation advances, Fetty’s baggage and suspects emerge, along with their secrets. Capel delivers a satisfying taste of Amsterdam’s locals, locations, and universal evils.

“The Stranger Inside Me” by Loes den Hollander delves into our mentally ill narrator’s twisted reality. After dark, he’s visited by Ted Bundy who grooms him to continue the infamous serial killer’s work. “He came closer. ‘They stopped me,’ he said. ‘I want you to pick up where I left off.’” Hollander gives us the timeline for the first mission upfront, and since we know what’s coming, the tension accelerates along with each new paragraph.

Part 4: They Live by Night In “Seven Bridges” by Max van Olden, Lisa is the server on the tour boat Princess Beatrix that ambles down the Amstel River en route to Grachtengordel, the Canal District. She’s onboard for three runs, the last of which is the evening’s candlelight cruise. Their route slips by the houseboat of the new love of her life, Timo, and she breaks her attention from her duties, hoping to catch a glimpse of him whenever they pass. As she serves sightseers, her mind dwells on Timo and his predecessor, Stefan, with whom things ended badly. Olden weaves the Amstel River’s charms with Lisa’s rising doubts about Timo, as she endures the routine and isolation of the Princess on a cruise over dark waters.

In “The Girl at the End of the Line” by Abdelkader Benali, a Moroccan policeman investigates the murder of a young woman whose body is discovered at the city’s edge. Benali’s writing shines with memorable lines like “In my head, I divide Amsterdam into places where you can safely hide a body and places where you can’t.” And “Better drunk and in hell than sober among the hypocrites.” Benali’s cop advances the narrative with as much time spent in reflection as in active investigation, reminding us this case is only a moment of a journey that has no easy resolution.

The pace quickens considerably in “Get Rich Quick” by Walter van den Berg. A couple of goofy punks decide to carjack a serious chunk of cache and rocket toward their foregone conclusion. Berg delivers a fast-paced romp with snappy dialog, a love-struck gofer, and a femme fatale who’s the brightest bulb in the dim of Osdorp after dark.

“Starry, Starry Night” by Rene Appél & Josh Pachter put a gratifying cap on Akashic’s latest serving of noir. Vincent, who stands to inherit his father’s very profitable business of snacks and refreshment kiosks, makes the mistake of restocking in the wee hours at Museum Square. There, past meets present when three of his old party pals turn up looking to relieve their pill-popping boredom.

Like most anthologies, the quality of the stories in Amsterdam Noir vary—but only slightly. Overall, it’s a 5-Star excursion in noir fiction.

Espionage August 1985

Espionage August 1985

Espionage Magazine Vol. 1 No. 4 August 1985
About People (Contributors)
About Books
About Films
About Other Things . . .
Letters to the Editor
Jackie Lewis: Publisher’s Page
Roger A. Beaumont “The Flawed Soothayer—Willoughby: General MacArthur’s G-2” (article)
Isak Romun “Dinner in the Upper Latitudes” art by Aries
Josh Pachter “Message from Lowanda” art by Robert Spike
Ron Goulart “Skyrocket Steel Conquers the Universe” art unsigned
Morris Hershman “Proof Negative” art unsigned
John Lutz “On Judgement Day” art by Aries
Mel Waldman “Rabbi of Berlin” art by Mike Ramesburg
Interview: Ernest Volkman
Barry N. Malzberg “Piu Mosso” art by Bruce Baker
Dick Stodghill “Knights of the Golden Circle” art by Robert Spike
Jane Beckman “A Proposition He Could Not Refuse” art by Aries
Richard Ashby “Night of the Durga” part one, art by Rob Richards
Joe Lewis “Spying Through Time” (article)
Richard Walton’s On File: The Sweet Toothed Spy (article)
Games Pages
Did You Know . . .

Editor/Publisher: Jackie Lewis
Associate Publisher: Jeri Winston
Editorial Assistant: Mike Christenberry
Production Manager: Michael Mills
Cover: Richard Martin
Cartoons: Halm
Published bi-monthly by Leo 11 Publications
164 pages, $2.50

Writer Josh Pachter recalls Espionage Magazine in “I Spy” in The Digest Enthusiast No. 7.

Fiction, News, and Reviews

Inside The Digest Enthusiast No. 9 January 2019:

The Digest Enthusiast No. 9 pages 50 and 51

Crime, espionage, and fantasy fiction by Michael Bracken, Josh Pachter, and Joe Wehrle, Jr., with art from Marc Myers, Michael Neno, and Joe.

News from all your favorite genre digest magazines, straight from their editors’ lips, including every newsstand stalwart, and the new generation of POD/digital stars.

In-depth reviews of EconoClash Review, Nostalgia Digest, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Hot Lead.

Plus over 100 digest magazine cover images, cartoons by Bob Vojtko and Clark Dissmeyer, first issue factoids, and more.

Cover by Ed Emshwiller, 160 pages, published by Larque Press. $8.99 print, $2.99 digital.

The Origins of Espionage

Espionage Magazine No. 1 Dec. 1984Writer Josh Pachter recalls the start-up of Espionage Magazine in “I Spy” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 7. Below is an excerpt from his article:

“Editor/Publisher Jackie Lewis and Associate Publisher Jeri Winston were already involved in the industry, putting out (so to speak) a number of magazines that, by comparison, made Penthouse look like Highlights for Children. If Playboy was soft-core porn and Penthouse was a little harder, Jackie and Jeri’s sex digests were fucking dirty. Perhaps in an attempt to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Lord, they famously asked their father, who had staked Bob [Guccione] to $5560 when Penthouse was in its infancy, to help them finance a non-porno publication that would feature spy stories and nonfiction articles about the world of espionage.”

Joseph Goodrich’s 10¢ Murder

EQMM Aug. 2016 coverThe final story of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews, also wraps up the Potpourri section:

Joseph Goodrich’s “The Ten-Cent Murder,” from EQMM Aug. 2016, brings the collection to a satisfying close. Queen’s methods and his trio of leading suspects are strongly in evidence in this murder mystery presided over by a fictitious Dash Hammett and Fred Dannay. The dialog between the two famed writers alone is worth the price of admission.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or new to the Ellery Queen character or magazine, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen is a terrific collection, long overdue.

My review of Nigel Taylor’s Worlds of StrangeneSS No. 2 begins on May 16.

Arthur Vidro’s EQMM #1

EQMM No. 1 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews:

Arthur Vidro’s tale “The Ransom of EQMM #1” leverages a bit of “The World’s Best Selling Mystery Magazine” history to build a case that should delight collectors and engage readers who enjoy a good puzzle. The story first appeared on the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s website to help celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2011.

This review concludes on May 12 . . .

Lawrence Block’s Death of Mallory Queen

Futures Mystery Jan/Feb 2006 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews:

Grand Master Lawrence Block provides “The Death of Mallory Queen,” which first appeared in Futures Mystery Jan/Feb 2006. Publisher Mavis Mallory urges Leo Haig, a detective second only to Nero Wolfe, and his assistant Chip Harrison, to save her from what she firmly believes is her impending murder. When and where? At the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Mallory’s Mystery Magazine. Who and how? She provides an impressive list of frienemies; all with good reason to want her dead. And it’s no surprise when she dies, but the fun here is in both the telling and the solution to the crime. Block’s tale is witty, light, and highly entertaining.

Cover image from Galactic Central.

This review continues on May 8 . . .

Patricia McGerr’s Last Check

EQMM March 1972 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews:

Stephen Coleman is rich, frugal, and able to learn from his mistakes. Like setting up a joint checking account with his wife. A mistake he’s careful not to repeat with wife number two. In “The Last Check” by Patricia McGerr (originally from EQMM March 1972), Coleman leaves a signature on a blank check as his dying message. It could be a clue to his murderer’s identity if only Captain Rogan can sleuth out its meaning.

EQMM base image from Galactic Central.

This review continues on May 4 . . .

Josh Pachter’s E.Q. Griffen

EQMM Dec. 1968 coverFrom the Potpourri section of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen anthology edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews.

Remarkably, co-editor Josh Pachter was in high school when his first story appeared in EQMM Dec. 1968. In “E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name” a sixteen-year-old detective tackles two mysteries. The first involves a robbery, a baffling case in which his father, Inspector Ross Griffen, explains all the details. His son, E.Q., listens intently and pulls out the solution, thus “earning his name.” The second mystery is also a robbery, and its solution also lies in the details, but maybe not the ones even a clever detective might think.

This review continues on April 30 . . .