Monday, November 23, 2015

Buffalo Noir

Buffalo Noir, a 2015 addition to the Akashic Books collection of noir short stories, follows in the tradition of the numerous series editions that have preceded it.  The books, most of them set in specific cities, offer twelve to fifteen stories from writers who are especially familiar with those cities and who recognize the undersides of those places that outsiders only stumble upon by accident - sometimes to their regret. 

This time around there are stories from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates (who recently tweeted that the "best view of Buffalo is in a rearview mirror), Lawrence Block (who was born in the city and lived there for several years), S.J. Rozan (whose family lore says that she was conceived in Buffalo), and Lisa Marie Redmond (who has been with the Buffalo Police Department since 1993).  Ed Park and Brigid Hughes, who also contribute stories to the collection, edit Buffalo Noir. The book opens with Park's eight-page introduction in which he describes the meaning of the term "noir" more by example than by explicit definition. Although his approach marks his introduction as different from the other introductions I've read in the series, it is highly effective and, in fact, Park's recollection of an incident from his own childhood is almost as intriguing as the collected stories themselves.

The twelve stories are as different in style as their authors. Some stories are told in a straightforward fashion and have conclusive endings; others are more open-ended and leave it up to the reader to decide what really happened. Some are dark and filled with the shadows one expects from noir fiction; others stretch the definition of noir almost to its breaking point.

I’m sure reflecting my personal reading tastes as much as anything else, my two favorite stories are both of the more straightforward type: Lawrence Block's "The Ehrengraf Settlement" and Gary Earl Ross's "Good Neighbors."  In Block's story, a wealthy man, used to always getting his way without much of a fight on the part of whomever he runs over in the process, makes a critical mistake when he decides to cheat his defense lawyer of the bulk of his fee. And in "Good Neighbors," the couple buttering up their elderly next-door neighbor in hope of inheriting her property some day does not react well when new neighbors move in and immediately gain the old woman's affection (Hitchcock would enjoy this one, I think).


Buffalo Noir is fun, and that is what noir fiction is all about, really. If you enjoy noir, you simply cannot go wrong with any of the books in the Akashic Books noir series, this one included.


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