New Orleans Noir: The Classics is the eleventh book from the Akashic Books noir series that I have read and enjoyed since late 2009. But, as indicated by a quick count of the books listed inside the cover of this one, that is just the tip of the iceberg. If I counted correctly, 75 of the short story collections have now been published and another 18 are being prepared for publication.
New Orleans Noir, as indicated by its subtitle, mines the historical treasure trove of previously published fiction set within the confines of New Orleans. With only one exception, the book’s 18 stories are presented in chronological order, beginning with an Armand Lanusse story from 1843 and ending with one by Maurice Carlos Ruffin from 2012. The stories are further subdivided into three sections, each part titled in a way that characterizes the New Orleans of that day.
“Part 1: The Awakening” is comprised of four stories written between 1843 and 1899 and includes contributions from Kate Chopin and O. Henry. “Part II: Sweet Bird of Youth” adds five more stories, including ones by Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams, and the book’s third, and longest, section adds another nine stories and is called “The Thanatos Syndrome.” This third section includes the work of writers familiar to today’s short story readers such as James Lee Burke, Ellen Gilchrist, Ace Atkins, and Nevada Barr.
As in any short story compilation, some of the stories will appeal to individual readers more than others, but I suspect that there is something here for just about everyone, no matter the style and content they prefer. My own favorites from the collection demonstrate, I think, the varied nature of the stories included. There is Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” (1894), at just four pages one of the shortest of all, that tells a story that Alfred Hitchcock could easily have used in his television series seventy years later. And there is Shirley Ann Grau’s 1955 story, “Miss Yellow Eyes,” which at thirty-six pages is one of the longest in the book. “Miss Yellow Eyes” tells the tragic (noir in every sense of the word) story of a young black woman planning to move to Oregon with her soldier fiancé where they can easily pass for white – before the Korean War interrupts their plans.
Another favorite is “Ritual Murder” (1978) by Tom Dent, a New Orleans-born writer who would die in 1998 at age sixty-six. This one is presented in script form, including stage directions, and strives to come to grips with the black-on-black violence that Dent aregues is akin to “group suicide.” Of the more recent stories, my favorite is Ace Atkins’s 2010 story “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.” Atkins so perfectly captures the elements of noir fiction in this one that it is perhaps my favorite story of the entire collection.
Bottom Line: New Orleans Noir: The Classics is another fine addition to one of the best short story series being published today. Don’t miss this one.
(Review copy provided by publisher)