“Keeping the Faith” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

When I first heard that ‘Nathan had a story in this anthology I was excited, because I love his work, but also slightly worried. His stories (as far as I have found, anyway) have a common theme that I didn’t think could be incorporated successfully into noir. I was fearful he would abandon that aspect of his storytelling, and I wasn’t sure what the result would be. It turns out I was wrong. He managed to craft a very ‘Nathan-like story that’s also perfectly noir.

The main character is a private eye hired to retrieve property stolen from a priest. He turns up late one night and gets the cold shoulder from the priest’s secretary. While he’s standing in the street, waiting to be granted admittance, he spies someone no one else sees. They can’t see them, because the person in question is a ghost. Right there, you know where you are and that it’s going to be good, and also unlike anything you’ve read before.

What I really, really like about the author’s world building is that being aware of the existence of the supernatural never benefits his main characters very much. It actually tends to hinder them, by rendering them outsiders. Being able to see the ghost gives this main character one small clue to solve the larger puzzle, but he gets small clues from any number of sources. It’s still up to him to put them all together and figure out what’s really going on. There’s no deus ex machina here.