Themed short story anthologies are usually the result of an editor suggesting a specific topic to a group of authors, or an editor gathering together previously published stories that are similar in subject. Master crime author and editor Lawrence Block took a slightly different approach for IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW.
Block suggested that his fellow authors use one of the paintings by American narrative artist Edward Hopper as the inspiration for a story. “His work bears special resonance for writers and readers,” Block notes of Hopper in his foreword, “and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.” The result is one of the most varied and yet rewarding story anthologies to appear in a long time.
Michael Connelly, in “Nighthawks,” uses Hopper’s best-known painting as the source of a story featuring Harry Bosch, Connelly’s best-known character. The former LAPD detective, now working as a private investigator, searches for the daughter of a client. He follows a suspect to the Hopper collection in Chicago and discusses the painting and the lonely characters depicted with the female suspect.
In “The Projectionist” (inspired by Hopper’s “New York Movie”) Joe R. Lansdale tells the story of a movie projectionist working in the booth above the seats of a local movie house, and what he does to suddenly protect the owners of the movie house and a young girl who works as an attendant.
Megan Abbott’s “Girlie Show” (inspired by Hopper’s “The Girlie Show”) is about a woman rediscovering the beauty and allure of her body by first posing nude for her artist husband, and then taking her nudity to a different level.
In “The Truth About What Happened” (inspired by Hopper’s “Hotel Lobby”) Lee Child has an FBI investigator recalling the vetting of a man considered to contribute a building to The Manhattan Project. The man is suspected of cheating on his wife, so the investigator follows the man to a hotel in New York City.
Block’s own contribution, “Autumn At The Automat” (inspired by Hopper’s “Automat’) finds a woman eating alone in an automat restaurant, silently recalling her departed companion and slowly devising a scheme for getting by as she leaves the restaurant. And art historian and Hopper biographer Gail Levin makes her fiction debut with “The Preacher Collects” (inspired by Hopper’s “City Roofs”), based upon a little-known event in Hopper’s later life.
Other contributors include such notable authors as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Deaver and Robert Olen Butler.
Each of the 17 stories is preceded by a brief biography of the author followed by a reproduction of the Hopper painting that inspired the story.
Genre fiction fans will no doubt be drawn by the many popular authors listed on the cover, including Block himself as Editor and contributor. Once starting this anthology these same readers are bound to discover the fascinating magnetism of Hopper’s paintings. Perhaps the inverse will also happen – that is, those devoted to Hopper’s work might hear about this anthology and discover the many pleasures of the authors included.
Block is to be commended for his unexpected anthology idea. And IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW belongs on the top of the reading pile of every crime, mystery, and horror fiction fan. —Alan Cranis