REVIEW OF TAKE-OUT AND OTHER TALES OF CULINARY CRIME By Rob Hart

Someone once noticed that actor Brad Pitt has a scene where he’s eating something in almost every one of his movies. So naturally the Internet compiled the film clips into a video mashup. Similarly, someone realized that several of Rob Hart’s short storied involved food in some capacity: a New York City bagel shop owner, a crime boss named after a drink, even the cut-throat world of food trucks. Rob Hart has established himself as the Brad Pitt of crime fiction. These short stories and more have been collected in his new anthology, TAKE-OUT AND OTHER TALES OF CULINARY CRIME, from Polis Books.

While he is best known for his hard-boiled Ash McKenna series, Hart shows that he won’t be confined to that one box. This collection showcases the range and skill of his writing.

Hart created a carefully plotted short story in the title story, TAKE-OUT. A small time New York City gambler gets in over his head at a Chinatown gambling parlor. He is forced to make unusual and dangerous deliveries for the parlor’s owner to pay off his dept. His final delivery is a twist that takes the reader by surprise.

THE GIFT OF THE WISEGUY has an incredible amount of heart. A mobster knows that he doesn’t have long to live, and he wants to set some things straight with the people important to him. The former criminal returns home after being in witness protection for decades because his son has written a tell-all memoir about their family. A police detective stakes out the book launch in hopes of catching up with man he believed killed his partner all those years ago. The detective and the crime boss end up sharing one last meal together.

Hart dips into suspense with the previously unpublished short story BUTCHER’S BLOCK. A chef desperate for money to invest into her restaurant agrees to be a participant on a new cooking competition show. Chef Nova finds herself with three other chefs cooking for their lives. They must prepare and present a dish in one hour, but first they need to find the ingredients and their tools in an abandoned building. Never have the stakes for cooking a perfect French omelet been so high.

Not only can he write gritty crime and suspense, but he can also write dip into the absurd with stories like KNOCK-OFF. A guy dresses up in a red fury monster costume and calls himself “Almo” because he legally can’t call himself Elmo. The money to take photos with tourists in Times Square is okay, but an offer to make more money by selling drugs from inside the costume is hard to turn down. After reading KNOCK-OFF and the rest of TAKE-OUT, I’ll never look at New York City ice cream trucks the same way again because, apparently, they’re all drug fronts.

Rob Hart masterfully keeps each story moving forward without feeling rushed. It would be easy for a writer to skim over the high plot points of a short story, but he ensures each story has depth and meat to it. He wastes no words with his tight writing style. The reader is never wanting more from each story, because each story is a complete meal: fully fleshed out and very, very filling.

Kate Malmon