Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kenneth Wishnia's students on TOWER!

by Kenneth (k.j.a.) Wishnia

My students hate cozies. Really. I’ll assign one every once in a while for balance and maybe three people out of a class of 35 will say they liked it. Everyone else will hate the freaking hell out of it. I teach a crime literature course every fall term at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, one of the poorer areas of Long island, and I’ve observed that our students always respond more favorably to hardboiled and noir stories, in part because the sensibilities at the darker end of the genre more closely resemble their own life experiences. In fact, this year’s group became such experts in analyzing the genre they even started complaining that some of the stories in Megan Abbott’s anthology A Hell of a Woman weren’t noir enough for them.

I repeat: some of the stories in A Hell of a Woman weren’t noir enough for them...

So I promised them that the next assignment would supply the electric jolt of noir that they were craving: Tower, by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman.

They loved it.

And they loved it even more when Reed Coleman dropped by to discuss the novel with us. (We’ve also brought Lee Child, S.J. Rozan, Jason Starr, Megan Abbott, Steve Hamilton and many other authors to our campus over the years.)

One student compared it to the collaboration between Jay-Z and Linkin Park on the album Collision Course, so naturally, we had to christen Reed with a new title: “The Jay-Z of Noir.” (Ken is stuck with being Linkin Park, I guess.)

Other sample comments:

“It was like a hybrid of a Guy Ritchie movie like Snatch and Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas.”

“It was really disturbing that the only time Griffin ever showed emotion was in the presence of violence, or when someone was speaking about violence. He was a sick bastard.”

“Interestingly, it is finding love that impacts both men more than any of the criminal activity they are involved in... Nick’s experience with love eases his rage; Todd’s experience ignites his rage.”

One woman summed it up in six words: “Love, Hate, F#@^k... then you Die.”

I have my favorite moments as well, but I’ll just pick one, when Todd says the Irish are always pining for the old country, but not the Jews: “You don’t hear too many second generation Jews pining for Poland or Russia, Romania or Ukraine.” You got that right, boychik, and it was true for my family, too. With good reason.


Kenneth (K.j.a.) Wishnia was born on a hot August night to a roving band of traveling academics. His first novel, 23 Shades of Black, was nominated for the Edgar and the Anthony Awards, and made Booklist’s Best First Mystery list. His other novels include Soft Money, which Library Journal listed as one of the Best Mysteries of the Year, and Red House, which was a Washington Post Book World “Rave” Book of the Year. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Murder in Vegas, Queens Noir, and elsewhere. Ken’s latest novel, The Fifth Servant, a Jewish-themed historical set in Prague in the late 16th century, is due out from William Morrow/HarperCollins in Feb. 2010. He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Long Island.

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