Thrilling and Chilling: Baghdad Noir
By Brian Gage
If you're a fan of macabre, mysterious stories that inspire a sense of thrill and a rising unease within you as you read, Akashic Books' critically acclaimed Noir series may be of interest to you. Each novel in the series is an anthology consisting of fictional, yet eerily plausible crime-influenced events written by various authors and set in distinct locations which vary from book to book.
One of the newest additions to the massively expanding series, Baghdad Noir, details the chilling accounts of murders, crimes and those involved on both sides of the capers in one of the most war-torn cities worldwide.
Many of the stories take place after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, a few focus on the decades before Iraq's image on the world stage was forever altered by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The anthology consists of fourteen exhilarating stories written by Iraqi authors, all edited by Samuel Shimon that are sure to have you glued to the pages. Here is an excerpt from one of these, written by Salima Salih, telling the gruesome story of a woman's quest to uncover the truth behind the murder of her dear aunt:
Excerpt From The Apartment by Salima Salih
"That Saturday didn't begin the way Anissa al-Mukhtar had hoped. The first thing she noticed when she opened her eyes in the morning was an overcast sky that augured a rainy day. No sooner had she sat up than he became aware of a headache, which she recognized as the harbinger of a bad cold, turning her plans for that day on their head.
She slumped back into bed and didn't get up for another hour. By that time, the commotion in the house had died down; three of her sons had left for work, while the fourth was still having breakfast in the kitchen. The moment he heard her enter the bathroom, he got up, placed the teapot on the stove, brought out a clean plate, and sat down to wait for her.
When she came into the kitchen and took her place across the breakfast table, she said: "I won't be needing you today. I have a terrible headache." They had made plans the previous day: he would drive her to the al-Ghadeer District to see her aunt, the last surviving member of the older generation; but before that, she would have to prepare some food for her aunt, who lived alone in her apartment even though she was well past eighty.
Anissa had suggested to her in the past that she come live with her family, or that she rent a place for her nearby so she could visit whenever she wished, but her aunt had refused all these offers. The only option for Anissa was to visit her once or twice a week, bringing her whatever food she was able to prepare. During those visits, she would clean the house and collect the dirty towels, bedsheets, and clothes in a plastic bag to wash at home and bring back on her next visit.
Despite her advanced years, Anissa's aunt would visit her niece from time to time. All she had to do was make her way down the street and flag a cab to drive her over.
Occasionally, she would stop by for two or three days at a time and then take another cab back to her place in al-Ghadeer. When the long summer days got to her, she would take a cab to the Blue Sky restaurant and have a light lunch while making chit-chat with one of the waiters, or with the person seated at the neighboring table.
The sole hardship in her life was climbing the three flights of stairs up to her apartment, but she endured this obstacle with heroic fortitude as if she wished to prove to everyone that she was still at the peak of health. At times, she wouldn't refuse the offer of Huda, a neighbor in her mid-forties, to pick up some supplies for her on one of her shopping trips; or the offer of Red Adel, the young man living with his mother in one of the ground-floor apartments, to replace her gas cylinder when it ran out.
Red Adel drove a small truck and worked for a company that made oil heaters, and he would sometimes run into her as she was carrying up her shopping bags to help. A certain familiarity developed between them as a result, and she would invite him to have tea with her whenever her niece had brought around a bit of cake.
Two days later, Anissa got in touch with Huda, to ask after the old lady and apologize for the late visit. She told the neighbor about her cold and asked her to inform her aunt that she'd be coming around as soon as she got better; she also expressed her frustration about the inconveniences of traveling between her aunt's place and her own house in Baghdad's al-Jadida District.
On Tuesday morning, Anissa rang up Red Adel's house, and his mother informed her that he was out of town and that her aunt was fine. She said she had seen her two days before and that there was nothing to worry about.
As her sons sat down for breakfast that day, Anissa packed up the food she had prepared for her aunt, and she asked one of her sons to drive her to al-Ghadeer. Less
than an hour later, they were on their way.
When they reached the al-Samarra'i mosque, there was a crowd of people blocking part of the street and slowing down the traffic. One of the bystanders noticed her inquisitive look and volunteered: "A minor car accident. Everything will be back to normal in a few minutes."
The reassuring words failed to stop her from muttering: "Tuesday is never a lucky day for me. I would have preferred to visit on Wednesday, but I can't put this off any longer."
When she reached the apartment and rang the doorbell, she got no response. She began to feel sick in the pit of her stomach, and a terrible fear came over her. Had what she had always dreaded finally taken place? She rang the doorbell a second time, and then knocked on the door. She waited.
She glued her ear to the door, but not a single sound reached her from within. Overhearing the knocking, Huda came out of her house to find Anissa standing at the old lady's door. Both women realized that something was awry. Huda asked Anissa whether she had a spare key, and when Anissa replied in the negative, she offered to call the police.
Less than half an hour later, two police officers arrived and broke down the door. Entering the apartment apprehensively, they were met with an overpowering stench of rot. The officers backtracked and instructed the two women to remain outside; one of them hurried back to their vehicle and returned promptly with protective masks.
Each of the officers placed a mask over his face, and after quizzing the two women about their relationship to the apartment's occupant, they handed Anissa a third
mask and gave her permission to follow them inside.
A sense of disorder reigned in the living room, something that was in itself no cause for surprise. Crossing the threshold to the kitchen, however, they spotted a pair of naked legs and immediately rushed over.
They found the old woman sprawled on the ground with her head lying in a pool of coagulated blood. Her body was so swollen that it was hard to make out her features. Anissa closed her eyes, and one of the officers took her by the shoulder and led her to the far end of the living room."
If you wish to continue along with Anissa as she delves deep into the mystery of her great aunt's untimely demise with the help of a private investigator, Baghdad Noir is available for purchase at the following link and contains a multitude of other exciting stories that are sure to keep your hunger for thrills satiated.
About The Author And Editor
Salima Salih was born in Mosul in northern Iraq. She studied law at Baghdad University and journalism at the University of Leipzig where she obtained her doctorate. She worked in the Iraqi press, publishing articles defending women's rights. She has published five short story collections and four novels, and she has translated the works of Ingeborg Bachmann, Christa Wolf, Angela Grünert, Christa Wichterich, and others from German to Arabic.
Samuel Shimon was born in Iraq, into an Assyrian family, and settled in Paris as a refugee in 1985. He co-founded "Banipal", an international magazine of contemporary Arab literature. In 2000, he and Margaret Obank edited "A Crack in the Wall", poems by sixty contemporary Arab poets. In 2005, he published a best-selling autobiographical novel, "An Iraqi in Paris". In 2008, he chaired the judges for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Brian Gage is a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts and a lover of all things outdoors. He enjoys traveling to exciting new locations, attempting to take in the most beautiful natural sites he can see. He is an avid hiker and climber and can be found at the Hadley Central Rock Gym on many of his free days.