Brussels Noir

Brussels Noir

by Michel Dufranne (Editor)


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"Brussels, Belgium's cosmopolitan, multilingual capital, has it criminal underside, as shown in the 13 dark—and sometimes darkly humorous—stories in this strong Akashic noir volume."
Publishers Weekly

"A perfect choice for those who love noir or those who love armchair traveling, this assortment of short stories gives the reader a glimpse into what life in the Belgian capital is like. An excellent entry in Akashic Books' noir series, which began with Brooklyn Noir more than a decade ago, Brussels Noir takes readers through the underbelly of yet another fascinating locale."
Self Awareness for Readers

"Akashic Books deserves kudos for their fine service to noir . . . If these volumes are designed to give crime writers a nifty forum and also capture the local flair and flavor, Brussels Noir is a fine come-hither."
New York Journal of Books

Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

Brand-new stories by: Barbara Abel, Ayerdhal, Paul Colize, Jean-Luc Cornette, Patrick Delperdange, Sara Doke, Kenan Görgu¨n, Edgar Kosma, Katia Lanero Zamora, Nadine Monfils, Alfredo Noriega, Bob Van Laerhoven, and Émilie de Béco.

From the introduction by Michel Dufranne:

"For our grand tour, please be seated, ladies and gentlemen readers, in Tram 33...and no, there's no rain in the forecast today, just a leaden sky; for that matter, considering the timetables of the STIB, it's probably better to go on foot than to take public transport. We'll explore the city center, that pentagonal surface defined by urban highways and a canal, home to the real old Brussels, the historic core. We'll take a dainty stroll through an edifice that achieves the feat of being more vast and monolithic in style than St. Peter's Basilica: the Palais de Justice. From there, it's easy to glide down to the Marolles; then let your feet carry you from kabberdouch to stamcafé, as you wander in an ethereal, even surrealist mode through the heart of the city, and finally come full circle.

Having whetted our appetites, we'll play leapfrog along the boulevards to make our way to the inner ring road and tiptoe across the razor's edge of the city...And if the life of the abattoir hasn't sated you, you'll have plenty of room to maneuver as you stray from the center and discover the oh-so-serene neighborhoods of the greater ring, home to our venerable European institutions above all suspicion."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617753985
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Series: Akashic Noir Series
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michel Dufranne was born in Brussels in 1970. He is a workaholic who is constantly pursuing different career paths including headhunter, university professor, editor of science fiction and comics, and publishing consultant. He is currently a comics writer, and a book reviewer for a Belgian TV and radio show that focuses on thrillers and crime fiction novels.

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If I remember well, it was my husband who had the idea. Jean isn't usually bursting with initiatives, at least as far as family projects are concerned, but that morning, when he spoke to us about renting out the room upstairs, I was immediately intrigued by the proposal. In the twenty years since we bought the house — we've only just finished paying it off — this room has gone by many names: rec room, guest room, workshop, storeroom, and so on, while never quite living up to any of them. Virgile, our son, for whatever reason, never staked claim on the space, which is not, however, without charm. He sleeps on the first floor; even after he was old enough to climb the steep staircase leading to the attic, he preferred to keep his room rather than move into one that would have attracted any other child his age.

Virgile is eighteen now. He is finishing high school at the prestigious Robert Catteau School.

My name is Emma Parmentier and I have no paid profession, even if my schedule is just as busy as that of any woman who sacrifices her life to a career. We live on the upper end of the Saint-Gilles municipality: a pleasant neighborhood of single-family homes side by side with apartment houses, no more than three or four units per building; close-knit, convivial dwellings with kindly neighbors.

We are happy. At least, we were. A simple family. A fairy tale.

I don't understand how all of this could have happened. I have always placed our family at the forefront of my concerns, devoting to my son and husband as much time as energy, attention as good intentions, not to mention my unfailing love for them, a love that never calls into question this commitment that I, as a wife and mother, consider natural. As I've said, my days are very full: when I'm not busy keeping the house in order, which already takes up three-quarters of my time, I manage the bookkeeping for Dr. Dutoit, a general practitioner whose office is situated near the town hall, in exchange for a symbolic wage and free consultations. This is what I like most about the place where we live: we value social relations, and solidarity is not an empty word. Our neighborhood has, for that matter, improved a great deal since we first moved in.

Despite the apparent calm of the surroundings, organized gangs were once rampant in the area, wrecking cars when they didn't steal them, vandalizing the facades of houses, snatching purses from women walking home alone at night. The gangs would meet at place Louis Morichar, a vast space converted into a public square, bordered by splendid houses in eclectic and art nouveau styles. Back then, old public urinals still stood in the middle of the square, a sordid sight, covered in obscene graffiti, where delinquents gathered to take drugs and share the fruits of their larceny. The place became, several years ago, the scene of a disgraceful crime: during an altercation between two young people, one brutally stabbed the other and left him there without the slightest chance of survival. This happened on a Sunday afternoon. In broad daylight! I have never understood the root cause of such violence. The attacker and his family lived a few blocks away from us. I remember it perfectly because we had just settled into the neighborhood, and the incident had upset me to the point where I considered moving again.

The affair caused a great commotion in the neighborhood. A committee was put in place, and we demanded a firm stance on the part of the local authorities. It was inconceivable to us that we should continue to live near these people. A neighborhood is shaped every day by the will of its residents. They are the ones who lend it a rhythm, a dynamic, a character, an atmosphere. It is they who imbue it with kindness or brutality, with joy or tragedy. With peacefulness or intimidation. We are responsible for the place where we live. It is our daily landscape. And if we leave our mark on it, it influences us in turn.

After the tragedy of place Morichar, it became vital for us — I mean, for all the residents of our neighborhood — that the family of the young murderer leave the area. We put pressure on them to do so, first by mail and then by more explicit means. Some of our neighbors even went so far as to empty a few garbage bins in front of their door. I am not saying that the method was decent, but it was, at least, efficient.

Fortunately, things have changed since then: place Morichar has been completely renovated, and now children can play there without fear of being attacked.

There was a time when we had planned to have more children, but life decided otherwise. It must be said that my recovery from Virgile's birth was rather difficult, and a new ordeal of that sort was not advisable for me. And then, as I told my husband, we were so content, just the three of us, that regrets never had the chance to encroach on our daily life. Jean shared my opinion, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

And so, about eight months ago, my husband proposed to convert the upstairs room into a student's loft, so that we could house a young foreigner eager to spend a few months in Belgium. By "foreigner," I understood he meant an English or American boy. We liked the idea of providing Virgile with an English-speaking companion. And of putting this space, whose vacancy had for some time weighed subconsciously on us, to good use. Virgile, for his part, did not seem opposed to the idea.

It was the beginning of the month of June. Time was running out if we wanted to be ready by September. We contacted an organization that took care of this sort of arrangement, and sent in the application to be recognized as a host family. Despite the short time frame, after having filled out all the necessary forms, we quickly received a positive response. I suspect they did not have enough applicants to host the numerous hopefuls. Furthermore, our conditions were not very strict: we asked only for a boy, more or less the same age as our son, whose mother tongue was English.

By mid-July, we had received a letter containing the identity of the young man who would be spending a few months with us. His name was Michael Hampton and he was from Brighton, England. He had just turned nineteen and wanted to take a training course in graphic design at one of our universities, while improving his scant knowledge of French, and fifteen days later the organization confirmed the date and time of Mike's arrival.

We spent the month of August converting the upstairs room. It was a charming space that, once renovated and furnished, resembled exactly the kind of intimate loft every student dreams of living in one day. We repainted the walls white, replaced the carpet, and set up a handsome single bed with posts of light wood, an oak desk that had belonged to my father-in-law, and a wardrobe varnished to a beautiful sheen.

Mike arrived on Thursday, the third of September, at three forty-five in the afternoon. The three of us were waiting for him at the Brussels-Midi station, a bit nervous, admittedly, since we had no idea what sort of person we would be dealing with. My husband stayed at my side, holding up the cardboard sign on which we had written Michael Hampton's name in thick black marker. Virgile stood in the background, silent and taciturn as usual. The Eurostar swept into the station and quickly unloaded its passengers. Jean raised the sign above our heads so that Mike could easily identify us. The minutes that followed were nerve-racking and exciting all at once.

He looked older than I'd imagined. At first glance, I would have guessed he was at least twenty-five. Virgile, only a few months his junior, seemed so much younger. I can't say that Mike made a poor impression on me; he was probably just as apprehensive as we were. His graceless features contrasted with the intense blue of his eyes, and at first I thought the poor boy was afflicted with crossed eyes. He walked hesitantly toward us, as if giving himself one last chance to turn around and call everything off. But he must have liked the look of us, since he ended up planting himself in front of Jean and holding out his hand with a bewildered smile. The introductions were made politely, perhaps not quite as warmly as I would have liked.

Everything went wonderfully for the first few weeks. Mike seemed pleased with his new room and he quickly adjusted to the family schedule. We eat at precisely seven o'clock every evening; Tuesday and Thursday are cleaning days, and on Wednesday we do laundry. If I take care of the housework in all the common areas, namely the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, and the bathroom, I expect everyone to devote a portion of his time to keeping his own room in order. We do our grocery shopping at the nearest Carrefour on Friday night, for the full week, as a family — I'm very strict on this point. On Saturday, finally, we tend the garden.

On Monday, September 14, Mike began his graphic design classes, and from that point on, he was rarely home before dinnertime. The evenings are calm at our house, and that seemed to suit him. At least at first. At the dinner table, we chatted about everything and nothing — Belgium, England — and I made an effort to correct his grammatical errors as often as possible. I was disappointed, however, that between him and Virgile, an open camaraderie was slow to take hold. The boys remained mutually on their guard, slyly observing each other's reactions, exchanging only vague good mornings and good nights with a cold courtesy.

Meanwhile, between Mike and my husband, a certain complicity set in as early as the first evening. Jean has a basic understanding of English, which allowed him to chat with an ease that Virgile and I did not have. Each night, as usual, Virgile would go upstairs to his room as soon as the meal was finished, which I deplored. As for me, after clearing the table and drinking a cup of tea with Mike and Jean, I would leave them to talk together — I might even say "between men," so naturally did the rapport seem to have formed.

At first, this curious friendship did not give me pause. Jean seemed happy to have found in Mike an interesting interlocutor, despite their generational difference. I understood that this relationship was precisely the one I had hoped to see develop between Virgile and Mike — and even more, dare I admit, between Virgile and his father — but what would be the point of questioning it? Men are ambiguous and complicated beings, and I long ago gave up trying to understand them. Lying in bed, I could hear them laughing and chatting freely about I don't know what.

Virgile has never been much of an extrovert. It's not in his nature. He doesn't often go out with children his age and, aside from a few classmates he only rarely mentions, I have never known him to have real friends. He has always been a withdrawn boy. From childhood, he showed little interest in the company of his fellow students, and whenever a few of them did come to play at our house, I constantly had to intervene to keep them from tormenting my son. Over the years, he has grown increasingly solitary. It must be said that from very early on, he showed an unusual maturity for his age. The other children seemed so babyish in comparison. I did what I could to protect him from the surrounding idiocy, and helped him see the richness of his difference in a positive light. I was constantly trying to warn him against the perversity — jealousy, mainly — of many of his schoolmates. It's a sad fact that the flaws of human nature manifest themselves early in life, even in young children. I was quick to teach Virgile that sometimes it's better to be alone than in bad company.

I had thought I could count on Jean's support in helping our son become friendly with Mike, or at least in giving the two of them a chance to get to know one another. But instead, my husband monopolized every conversation at the dinner table, and once Virgile withdrew to his room, Jean never asked him to join them to finish out the evening. Mike's arrival had given me hope that Virgile, through contact with him, might open up a bit more to the outside world.

It's important to know that Saint-Gilles is divided in two. La Barrière serves as a symbolic border, a roundabout with constant traffic from which arterial roads extend like tentacles: avenue du Parc on one side, rue de l'Hôtel des Monnaies on the other. The upper end of the municipality offers calm, well-tended streets arranged in a regular grid pattern, where functionaries, students, and retirees walk peacefully alongside one another. As for the lower end, it's another story entirely. The course of those streets, like the ambiance surrounding them, is brutally winding, incoherent, nearly treacherous. A jumble of architectural styles, few if any single-family homes, only buildings overflowing with a chaotic population. And the prize at the end of this labyrinth of urban shadows: the Parvis. I have never understood the enthusiasm this place inspires in my fellow citizens. I can't deny a certain charm; I sometimes go there on Thursday to stock up on natural products, both at the outdoor market held on that particular day, and at Manuka, the organic grocery I wish was located closer to my home. It is, in fact, the only business in the neighborhood that finds favor with me, as well as with my palate. As for the rest, the cafés, bistros, and bars are havens for Saint-Gilles's most erratic residents. Artists, the unemployed, and immigrants all brush shoulders in the noise and confusion. The church that stands there long ago lost its aura; its role has been diminished to that of a cheap ornament. Worst of all is the Clos Sainte-Thérèse, a daytime homeless shelter that attracts individuals as filthy as they are malicious. An infected wound. An abscess. It's impossible to walk by without being harassed by the scum of society, their arms extended to ask for a coin, yet showing no signs of deformity; arms they might instead use, it seems to me, to earn an honest living. An unbearable sight, this degeneration, one I always took care to protect Virgile from when he was young, even if it meant making a detour by way of the rue du Fort to avoid the Parvis. Until now, I have always been able to keep misery at a distance from our household.

Michael Hampton undermined all my efforts. He destroyed the most powerful armor that exists: ignorance.

* * *

Once the early days of this growing complicity had passed, I began to feel uncomfortable supporting such a close relationship between a man long past fifty and the boy that was Mike. What was this about, anyway? And how could Jean act so childishly in front of our son? It seemed to me the roles had been reversed. I tried to share my opinions with my husband, but he hardly listened to me, claiming he had never prevented Virgile from keeping company with them once dinner was over.

Virgile and his father's relationship is complicated. They love each other, of course, but Jean has difficulty expressing his emotions in general, and showing his son the tenderness he feels for him in particular. As for Virgile, he waits for recognition from his father with a vigilance that sometimes borders on obsession. They are alike, in the end: both equally reserved, too often allowing their pride to stand in the way of their relationship.

One night, I woke up after just an hour or two of sleep. I could no longer hear any sounds coming from the ground floor, though Jean's place beside me in bed was empty. So were the living and dining rooms. I am not the sort of woman to wait up all night for her husband to come home from the bistro. In fact, on that night, the idea that Jean had gone out for a drink with Mike did not even occur to me. I went into Virgile's room; he was sleeping peacefully. I shook him awake. I wanted to talk with him, to ask him what he thought of Mike. Why didn't they speak more to one another? Was he disturbed by this presence at the heart of our family? Did he feel we'd rejected him by taking an interest in this young Englishman?

Virgile looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, then rolled over in his bed, mumbling, "Leave me alone, Mom."

When Mike and Jean finally came home — at eleven o'clock — they reeked of beer. I tried to tell my husband that this chumming around with Mike was unacceptable. What would people think of him? Going out at night to God knows what infamous dive, with a young man his son's age! Not to mention that he was cruelly interfering in a possible friendship between Virgile and this boy. Had we not brought Mike here to give our son the companion he had so sorely missed as a child?

This was our first fight regarding Mike. Jean insisted that it was normal for a man to relax after a long day at work, and that the Brasserie de l'Union was by no means an infamous dive. He did not see, he said, why I was making this into a federal affair.


Excerpted from "Brussels Noir"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Part I: The Razor’s Edge
“The Parakeet” by Barbara Abel (Saint-Gilles)
“Daedalus” by Katia Lanero Zamora (Matongé)
“Only Muddy Streams Flow in Darkness” by Patrick Delperdange (Rue d’Aerschot)
“R I T U A L: Diary of Flesh and Faith” by Kenan Görgün (Anderlecht Abattoirs)

Part II: Sur (Realism)
“A Fraction of a Second” by Paul Colize (Palais de Justice)
“The Other War of the Marolles” by Sara Doke (The Marolles)
“The Other Half of a Life” by Ayerdhal (Gare Centrale)
“The Killer Wore Slippers” by Nadine Monfils (Place du Jeu de Balle)
“The Village Idiot” by Edgar Kosma (Rue de Flandre)

Part III: Room to Maneuver
“In the Shadow of the Tower” by Émilie de Béco (Reyers)
“Ecuador” by Alfredo Noriega (Ixelles)
“Paint It, Black” by Bob Van Laerhoven (Parc de Forest)
“The Beekeeper” by Jean-Luc Cornette (Woluwe-Saint-Lambert)

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