Feb 11

Blot Lit Reviews: The Baltimore Atrocities by John Dermot Woods

The Baltimore Atrocities
The Baltimore Atrocities, John Dermot Woods
Coffee House Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-56689-371-8
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell


With a title like “The Baltimore Atrocities,” you don’t suspect the read to be a happy one, and while the story is grim and at times even horrifying, John Dermot Woods’ spin on the classic noir genre is an entirely enjoyable read.

The novel itself is unusual—a collection of short fiction pieces tied together with a larger interwoven story tying it together. The protagonist and his friend are investigating the disappearances of their siblings, who both disappeared from the same spot in a Baltimore park, and the book is presented like a case study of all the dark and mysterious occurrences that they came across in their investigation. They are often told from the protagonist’s point of view.

The structure of the novel makes for a quick read. Some of the flash pieces are only a few sentences, and most of the chapters of the main narrative are three or four pages at most. Here is one of the shorter pieces, Holiday Traffic, in its entirety:

“We avoid the Fort McHenry Tunnel when driving back into the city after our Memorial Day holiday, as more than half of Baltimore’s metro-area residents would pass through the tunnel that day. We wondered how it would affect Baltimore’s need for schools if one of the massive freighters navigating into the city’s harbor from Kobe, Japan, carrying thousands of sedans to supply Toyota dealerships up and down the eastern seaboard, were to sink right above the tunnel, and breach its ceiling on that Monday afternoon.“

These flash pieces range from the macabre musings of the protagonist’s experiences in Baltimore with tales of horrific things done to and by the residents of the “strange city,” ranging from murder, to kidnapping, to child slavery.

The pieces are also often accompanied with sketches depicting the stories—and just like their written counterparts, some are much darker than others.

Readers will often find themselves wide-eyed at the happenstances, and excited to get the next part of the overarching story as they come to the end of another set of flash pieces. It is the perfect read for a millennial with a short attention span, much like myself. Noir for the twenty-first century.

A quick read with interesting characters, a perfect sense of building suspense, and many different perspectives of living on the dark side, Baltimore Atrocities, gives a fresh take on the mystery and noir genre. The protagonist often recalls these stories, as you see in “Holiday Traffic,” with a sort of detached matter-of-fact voice that presents these, well, atrocities, in a way that makes them feel mundane.

“A whodunit without the who,” is what the back of the book says—but there is definitely a mastermind behind this innovative and clever piece of fiction: John Dermot Woods. Baltimore Atrocities is quick, well-written, and definitely a trip for anyone who has the stomach for it.

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