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Birmingham Noir by Joel Lane and Steve Bishop (Tindal Street Press, pounds 7.99) EVERY city has its dark side and Birmingham is no exception, though maybe most of us prefer not to see the nasty bits.

But, judging by this collection, we seem to have a generation of new writers who revel in the seedy, the sordid and the bleak.

Brummie publisher Tindal Street Press has been building a solid reputation, much of it based on crime and the short story.

This book capitalises on both, including well-known authors like Judith Cutler and Resnick creator John Harvey, who takes us on a topical visit to the world of lap-dancing.

But mostly they are stories by less-known or new writers who reveal a sometimes startling seam of macabre imagination and a taste for the dark corners of life.

The editors say: 'We were looking for tales that exploited the tensions and dangers of urban life with passion and insight, not crude exploitation or conservative moralising. We wanted the darkness of pain, the brightness of anger, the hard music of a society in transition.'

That all sounds a good deal more pretentious than the stories they have actually chosen, which are unsettling, frequently raw, mostly entertaining but, alas, sometimes rather crude.

Everyone from Hitler to Jack the Ripper gets a look-in and some of the stories, like Pauline Dungate's tale of backstreet abortion and tragedy are disturbing.

If I have a criticism, it is that sometimes I felt I was reading an A to Z of the city and its place names, rather than getting any real feeling for the undercurrents and vibrancy of the place.

But the good news is that Birmingham clearly has a thriving literary culture - much of it thanks to Tindal Street.

Birmingham In The Thirties by Alton Douglas (Brewin Books, pounds 8.99) MORE unashamed nostalgia from Alton in a collection of photographs and evocative advertisements.

The 1930s proved to be a pivotal decade that was marred by depression and ended in the inexorable slide into war.

The Birmingham that emerged after the Blitz would be a very different place. But here you can step back and glimpse the way we were - and some, of course, will remember it well.

Pictures of trams, school groups, streets and shops lost long ago will bring back the memories.

It was also a decade that saw the arrival of the very first Odeon at Perry Barr and - guess what - road works and traffic jams in a city that never seems to stop remodelling itself.

This is a book for those who love to wallow in the way things were.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2002
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