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Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime


Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime

Sometimes things seem to come at you from behind and suddenly form recognizable patterns.

In the introduction to his short story collection, TAKE-OUT AND OTHER TALES OF CULINARY CRIME, the accomplished American fiction writer Rob Hart claims not to have noticed, at first, that a tight and edgy cluster of tales written since 2012 all coalesced (like dried blood) around a “food noir” theme.

Once that was pointed out, the 16 titles became a natural recipe for his latest book. While most have appeared previously in a number of mystery and crime anthologies or periodicals, Hart also includes three never-before-published ones to whet the forensic appetites of his genre aficionados.

Now, as we all know from mainstream TV and movies, the best criminal plots involve deception and adroit intellectual reversals, that sudden realization that a key player has been blindsided. And to keep up, our expectations as readers must just as suddenly shift and adjust to new variables and outcomes.

"TAKE-OUT is a superb series of tight, visceral experiences for those with strong stomachs who love to read dangerously."

In TAKE-OUT, Hart is a proven master of the intentionally unbalanced narrative, whether writing about a perfectly planned arrest that goes perfectly awry (“Have You Eaten?”); an exotic hot pepper turned lethal weapon (“Bhut Jolokia”); a surreal distortion of TV chef competitions (“Butcher’s Block”); or the title tale of Chinese “food” deliveries to some unsavory clients (“Take-Out”).

One might think that crime with a foodie context would be, well, tasteful --- that it would be witty, curious and comfortable like a good murder-mystery dinner, or elite British TV productions like the long-running “Midsomer Murders” series.

But that’s not where Hart’s world is. TAKE-OUT probes the back alleys and subterranean byways of inner-city culture where life and death travel in close proximity. The benign exterior of urban food trucks can hide major drug deals and lethal reprisals; a wholesome-looking family bagel shop survives at the pleasure of persistent extortionists; underworld power struggles are vicious and relentless.

In fact, the taste of crime is distilled into every morsel of food and drink that is woven into Hart’s complex and often grotesque storylines. Without exception, each moves with unnerving efficiency, usually not to a predictable conclusion, but to an abrupt end.

Like some dishes whose seasoning is never quite right on the palate, yet compel us to take another and another bite, Hart’s tortuous tales remind us that fiction can be as strange as real life when viewed from underneath.

TAKE-OUT is a superb series of tight, visceral experiences for those with strong stomachs who love to read dangerously.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on January 25, 2019

Take-Out: And Other Tales of Culinary Crime
by Rob Hart