Thursday, July 30, 2015

Providence Noir

I have been reading the Akashic “Noir Series” since 2010 and, at this point, I’ve lost track of exactly how many of the short story collections I’ve read.  A quick search of Book Chase does come up with several reviews of the Akashic books and one or two other more general posts regarding them, but I’m never sure just how well the search function of Blogger works, so the results might be incomplete.  In any case, I have enjoyed all the ones I’ve read, and Providence Noir is no exception.

As is always the case with this series, Providence Noir is a collection of dark crime stories set in the specific geographic region named in the book’s title.  In this case all of them take place in a single city, but some of the other books group the stories by specific state (Lone Star Noir, for example) or even by whole country (such as Haiti Noir).  Interestingly, eight of the fifteen stories in this volume were written by women and seven of them by men, something (that at the risk of sounding chauvinistic for saying it) strikes me as unusual for a collection of crime stories this dark. 

Ann Hood, who edited Providence Noir, uses Otto Penzler’s definition of “noir” in her introduction both to define the term for readers and to tell them what to expect from the stories, “Noir is about sex and money and sometimes about revenge…in noir there are no heroes and no happy endings.”  And that is what makes reading the Akashic books such great fun.

There are stories here of mobsters with a strange honor code all their own, scams gone bad, cases of mistaken identity, friends killing friends to hide the truth about themselves, dreams foretelling tragic events, sociopathic children, people not sure whether they have murdered or not - and my favorite one, the book-themed story by Peter Farrelly that closes out the collection.

Peter Farrelly
Farrelly’s story, “The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday,” starts out rather innocently with a thirty-eight-year-old trying to impress a young coed by telling her that he is a novelist whose first book is soon to be published.  She is duly impressed, but their short-lived affair disappoints both of them and they soon go their separate ways.  But when our pretend-author is faced with the chance to steal the work of a young British writer, he jumps at it and, almost before he knows it, he is a published author whose publisher is hailing him as a major discovery.

But remember Otto Penzler’s definition of noir that I quoted earlier?  There are “no happy endings” in noir fiction according to Mr. Penzler.  I suspect that, in this case, that would largely depend on which of the story’s main characters you asked because one of them is very, very happy with the rather Hitchcockian ending of the story.

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