The first story in the book, "Phelan's First Case," by Lisa Sandlin, is set in 1973 Beaumont. Beaumont is a Texas Gulf Coast city located about twenty-five miles west of the Louisiana border. Having grown up in a little town adjacent to Beaumont (going to Beaumont was like going to the big city for us), I can vouch for the authenticity of Sandlin's references to local landmarks, schools, streets, neighborhoods and the like, and was not surprised to learn that the author herself is a Beaumont native. But this being a "noirish" story, the atmosphere described by Sandlin is more akin to the 1940s than to the 1970s. And that's what makes these stories fun.
Tom Phelan, recent loser of a finger to an oil rig accident, has taken his settlement money and opened a private investigation service. Now he needs a client or two - and a secretary to watch the front door. The secretary problem takes care of itself when an old high school buddy of Phelan's convinces him to give a woman fresh out of a Texas prison a chance at the job.
"Phelan's First Case," I have to say is long on atmosphere (the author does noir very well) but a bit short on plot credibility. The best noir pieces manage to keep a sense of reality and threat about them; this story never achieves either of those feelings. Perhaps the story is more tongue-in-cheek than I give it credit for, but as I read it, it is a bit of a disappointing kick-off for Lone Star Noir.