Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Miami Noir: The Classics

The series of crime story collections from Akashic Books is not new to me. Miami Noir: The Classics is, in fact, the fifteenth book in the series I’ve read and reviewed. It all started back in 2010 with my discovery of Mexico Noir, and I’ve looked forward to reading one or two of the collections every year since then. As their titles indicate, each of the books is a collection of darkish crime stories focused on one city or geographical area (Prison Noir being the one exception I’ve encountered so far). Some of the city-collections have been augmented by “classics” editions, and I’ve found those to be particularly helpful for readers interested in learning about some of the classic authors of the genre.

So, having already read and enjoyed Chicago: The Classics and New Orleans: The Classics, I was pleased to get my hands on Miami: The Classics. I was even happier to learn that this one is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. The collection features Miami-related crime stories written between 1925 and 2006, and it includes the work of some legendary authors. The Akashic collections are always divided into four sections of four or five stories each, and this time around those sections are titled: “Original Gangsters,” “Perilous Streets, Lethal Causeways,” “Miami’s Vices,” and “Gators & Ghouls.” 


The “Original Gangsters” section is aptly titled because it is home to the five oldest stories in the book, all produced from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s. I was a bit surprised to find stories here by the likes of conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, novelist Zora Neal Hurston, and the prolific Damon Runyon, but their stories served as perfect mood-setters for what follows - and I really enjoyed the Douglas story, “Pineland.” I especially, though, enjoyed Brett Halliday’s (pen name of Davis Dresser) “A Taste of Cognac” as it serves as a perfect introduction to Mike Shayne, the character for whom Halliday is probably still best known. That story should be read by anyone wondering what the definition of a “noir” crime story really means. 


“Perilous Streets” includes stories by two old favorites of mine, Elmore Leonard and T.J. MacGregor, but I really hit my stride when I began reading the book’s third section, “Miami’s Vices.” The five stories in this third section were all written between 1996 and 1999, and they combine to capture that era perfectly. It includes two stories that pack quite a punch despite being two of the shortest in the book: Lynne Barrett’s “To Go” and John Dufresne’s “Lemonade and Paris Burn.” The Barrett story tells a tale about a woman who is on the road with her boss when he suddenly dies, and the Dufresne story is about four foster kids who flit through the life of a Miami man one day. This section also includes my two favorite stories in the collection: Edna Buchanan’s “The Red Shoes,” about a man with a foot fetish who breaks into the wrong apartment one night, and David Beatty’s “Ghosts,” a suspenseful story about a man marked for a revengeful death and the innocent family he carelessly places in peril.


The “Gators & Ghouls” section only has four stories in it, but they include another of my favorites, “Washington Avenue,” by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. This 2001 story is a long, relatively complicated story about the gay bar scene in Miami’s South Beach area where six men have died, it seems, because they mixed alcohol with a specific drug known to be lethal in that combination. Private detective Lupe Solano finds it difficult to believe that six men could have been that stupid on one street in the same weekend. Garcia-Aguilera, herself a private investigator for thirty years, is best known for her Lupe Solano series - one that I want to know more about after reading this story.


Bottom Line: The stories in Miami Noir: The Classics vary in length from three pages to thirty-eight pages, and they cover almost a century of Miami crime story writing. Some of the stories are lighthearted, one is more fantasy than crime, and others are dark and ominous. As always, there is something here for everyone. If you haven’t discovered the Akashic Books noir collections yet, you are in for a treat.


Review Copy provided by Publisher

8 comments:

  1. I shall definitely have to look into these Akashic anthologies. Miami Noir might not be for me but I expect others might.

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    1. Tampa Bay Noir might be more suited, Cath. It's all relatively new stuff, and lots of fun. The "classics" collections do read a little differently than the other books in the series.

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  2. I've never seen any of these books, but what a fun way to group stories like these together. And I love that they've included older stories written back in the fifties along with newer ones.

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    1. The classic stories are quite an education in the history of the genre, Lark. I've added a couple of series to my list of those I want to look into, and several authors that deserve a longer look.

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    2. 'Cause you didn't already have enough books on your TBR list to read? ;D

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    3. It just keeps getting better and better. I've been buying some of those wonderful Library of America books again, and they average three or four novels per book, so my list is fast approaching the infinite level now.

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  3. I think noir isn't my thing, but wanted to check in to see how you are doing with this awful rise in cases everywhere. We doubled in a week. Me, not doing so well.

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    1. Noir is definitely not for everyone, Nan, but I find the stories to be at least a bit nostalgic, sort of a throwback to those old black and white movies from the forties and fifties I still love so much.

      Sorry to hear that things are not going well for you guys. We steadily add to our case load, somewhere around 7 or 8 thousand new cases a day in Texas still, with no hint of a slowdown. People just aren't taking it all that seriously - and that really scares me. It's not serious until it affects you personally, and most people still haven't felt the impact.

      I'm keeping my head down, as always, and only going where I need to go for specific reasons. I suspect that even after this is all over with, business as normal will be very different than it was before covid-19.

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