Tuesday, July 05, 2016

St. Louis Noir

St. Louis Noir is just the latest of about a dozen of the short story collections in this Akashic series that I’ve read now, and the streak continues – not a single one of them has disappointed me.  Each of the collections begins with an introduction from the book’s editor (in this instance, Scott Phillips) that helps set the overall tone for what is to follow.  As Phillips says, the St. Louis region has not had an easy time in recent years, and that makes the city the perfect setting for this kind of hardcore crime fiction.  Consider that one of Phillips’s definitions of noir is fiction that “traffics in fatality and doom and bad luck and characters who persistently, knowingly, act against their own best interests” and you have an idea of what is to come.

Among my favorite stories in St. Louis Noir is one called “Deserted Cities of the Heart” (by Paul D. Marks) in which a loner of an IT nerd with a security clearance is convinced to hack into a witness protection data base with disastrous results by the attractive young out-of-towner who suddenly comes into his life.   Another is “A Paler Shade of Death” (by Laura Benedict) about a young woman that many suspect is guilty of killing her four-year-old son.  Now that her marriage has fallen apart, she is trying to convince herself that it is time for a fresh start – but is it?  Two other stories are particular standouts: “The Brick Wall” (by John Lutz) and “One Little Goddam Thing” by the collection’s editor Scott Phillips.  The first is a rather Hitchcockian story involving revenge of the most ingeniously delicate variety, and the second involves revenge of the cruder, but equally effective, type. 

St. Louis Noir also includes what is titled “A Poetic Interlude,” four short poems from Michael Castro.  In very few words, the first two pieces (“In St. Louis Heat” and “Gaslight Square”) paint vividly memorable pictures of St. Louis street scenes, but the third poem, “St. Louis Blues Revisited” strikes a note I wish it had not stricken by referencing “the cold cop who killed Michael Brown.”  Perhaps I am misreading the poet’s intention in making that reference, but I do not see that it adds much of anything to mood of the poem, even coming in the poem’s very first stanza as it does.  Much worse is a similar reference in author Umar Lee’s short author biography (whether written by Lee or by the editor did, I do not know) to the “murder of Michael Brown.”  That reference serves no purpose whatsoever other than to explain the politics of Umar Lee who is “presently a candidate for mayor of St. Louis.”

The bottom line: St. Louis Noir is another worthy addition to what is perhaps already the best series of short story collections to be published in decades.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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