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Queens locales come alive in anthology set in borough

"Queens Noir," available at the Queens Library, collects 19 short stories, each set in a different borough locale. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

As part of a sordid, dark plot, 25-year-old Nikki Lavin Sheridan drugged and drowned her father, Douglaston doctor George Sheridan, in the waters under the Throgs Neck Bridge — the same place her mother, Eileen Lavin, was murdered a quarter century ago.

You will not read about Lavin Sheridan’s trial in newspapers, though, because her crime never really happened.

It was conjured up by Bayside resident and author Denis Hamill, one of three scribes who read from their contributions to the short-story anthology “Queens Noir” at the Bayside branch of the Queens Library last Thursday night.

Hamill has lived in Bayside for 13 years, and “Under the Throgs Neck Bridge” is replete with neighborhood details such as Crocheron Park and the jogging path along the Cross Island Parkway, where he often takes a leisurely stroll.

“The way Mr. Hamill describes Bayside makes it as big a character as the two principals and the victims,” said librarian Tejas Desai, who also runs the branch’s weekly writers workshop.

Hamill, along with authors Shailly Agnihotri and Kenneth Wishnia, discussed their craft and how Queens locales became parts of their stories.

Agnihotri, a public defense attorney and filmmaker, grew up in Louisiana and said her family would visit Jackson Heights to shop for weddings and other celebrations. In her story “Avoid Agony,” matrimonial investigator Raj Kumar navigates traditional and old world values, as well as sari shops and masala dosa spots.

“Growing up in the South as an immigrant in Louisiana, Jackson Heights seemed very interesting to me, with its vibrant community and restaurants,” she said. “I was intrigued that while I would leave there, there were people who lived there the whole time.”

Wishnia’s story, “Viernes Loco,” is about a former cop investigating tainted antibiotics being sold in Corona’s Ecuadorian pharmacies.

Writing in the first-person present tense, he said, lends the story a sense of immediacy, but it forfeits the author’s ability to give the reader information the protagonist does not have.

“You know when Vera Miles says, ‘Oh, I can handle a sick old woman,’ and we yell, ‘No! No!’” he explained, demonstrating how Alfred Hitchcock used the audience’s knowledge to create tension in “Psycho.”

The protagonist of Hamill’s story rents an apartment on the 16th floor of a Bayside condo with views of Little Neck Bay.

“I belong to a pool club and I used to look up and imagine what goes on in that building,” he said. “But I didn’t ride the elevator to the 16th floor.”

The Gucci-wearing, yacht-owning Sheridan is a frequent patron of Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse on Bell Boulevard.

“I did a story on the guy who owns Uncle Jack’s,” said Hamill, a columnist for the New York Daily News. “It has more of an upscale clientele — different from, say, Donovan’s. This guy would hang out in Uncle Jack’s. There they’d break your legs for $250. At Donovan’s you can get an $8 burger.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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