Lawrence Block, editor of the gritty new noir collection, “Dark City Lights: New York Stories,” has written more than 100 books, including “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” which was turned into a 2014 film starring Liam Neeson as cop-turned private eye Matthew Scudder.
A Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, Block has won 10 Edgar Awards and is famous for inventing Scudder, gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, the insomniac Evan Tanner, and, of course, Keller, the hired killer.
Block, 76, who lives in Greenwich Village with his wife, will be signing copies of “Dark City Lights” along with some of the book’s contributors 6:30 p.m. Thurs. May 7 at the Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren St.
Q What makes a story a New York story?
A Just that it’s set here, really. I can’t think of any common denominator — just that one way or another, the story reflects the city.
Q C’mon! There are definitely NYC-centric themes in this book — not truly knowing the neighbors with whom we live in such proximity, New Yorkers’ obsession with their dogs, and, of course, that dark, sardonic New York sense of humor …
A I simply wanted to find good writers and encourage them to write stories. I didn’t have a particular theme in mind. Most of the writers are New Yorkers, but a few are not.
Q What about NYC neuroses? In Jim Fusilli’s “The Safest Form of Conveyance,” for example, a woman with PTSD from a prior attack encounters a man with claustrophobia in an apartment building elevator, and blood is spilled. Don’t you think living conditions make New Yorkers more anxious than people elsewhere?
A: I don’t know if that’s true. We’re a pretty anxious and neurotic species overall, regardless of where we live.
Q Crime is down in NYC and throughout the country, yet the crime genre in books and movies is enduringly popular. Why do people love it so much?
A It’s a field concerned with issues of importance. It’s not an academic world with the suspense being whether someone will get tenure. Life and death have always commanded our attention. Also, it’s gratifying. One reader told me she always goes to sleep with a mystery because she wants the assurance that she is reading something that will resolve itself in the end. People read mysteries: They’re enormously popular worldwide. A mystery is really just any story where a crime or the threat of a crime is central to the story.
Q: What was notable about assembling and editing this collection?
A: The collection wound up being mystery stories of one sort or another, but I wasn’t looking specifically for that and Robert Silverberg’s story (about space aliens landing in Central Park) is science fiction, for example. I was really struck by the variety and quality of the stories throughout — it was really quite extraordinary.
Q Have you ever been the victim of a crime yourself?
A Nothing serious.
Q The stories vary, but it doesn’t seem as if there is a lot of diversity in the contributors to this collection.
A The stories vary enormously from one to the next! No two stories are alike. In that respect, they represent the diversity of the city. There are two parent and child combos in the book: (Actress and writer) Elaine Kagan is a friend of mine of many years who lives in LA and has written novels and I thought she could do a short story. She talked about it with her daughter, Eve, who said, “how would it be if I wrote a story for Larry’s collection?” She did and it turned out excellent. One (contributor) is my own daughter Jill. She had written stories years ago in college and hadn’t done anything since. She busies herself as a corporate real estate lawyer. She wrote a story and sent it in to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and they snapped it up so she wrote a second one (“The Lady Upstairs”) and it’s in the book. I can’t think of a moment in my career that gave me as much satisfaction as that. I didn’t see a reason to change a word.