Thursday, July 15, 2021

Palm Springs Noir - Various Authors


Palm Springs Noir is one of the latest crime fiction collections in the Akashic Books series that now numbers close to 120 such books. The stories, with a couple of exceptions, in each book are all set in one city or region of the world, and this time around all the action takes place in Palm Springs itself or in places like Joshua Tree National Park, the Coachella Valley Preserve, or Desert Hot Springs which are all nearby. And, as usual, the stories will not disappoint fans of the genre. 


The term “noir” can sometimes be difficult to explain to readers who are unfamiliar with the genre, but editor Barbara DeMarco-Barrett offers one of the better definitions of noir in her introduction to the collection that I’ve seen - and she does it in layman’s terms. According to DeMarco-Barrett, “In noir, the main characters might want their lives to improve and may have high aspirations and goals, but they keep making bad choices, and things go from bad to worse…characters follow the highway to doom and destruction. They are haunted by the past, and the line between black and white, right and wrong, dissolves like sugar in water. The hero rationalizes why it’s okay to do whatever dark thing they are about to do.” The genre was particularly prominent in the books and movies of the 1940s and 1950s, but it survived its lean years of popularity and seems to have made a nice comeback in recent years. 


Palm Springs, in its heyday, was the favorite hangout of movie stars and celebrities, especially of Frank Sinatra and his “rat pack” friends. That’s why, as I was beginning the stories in the book’s third section, I had to smile a little when it finally hit me that the titles of the four parts all sounded familiar for a good reason: they are all also titles of songs recorded by Sinatra. The section titles always foretell or hint at the contents of the stories in the section, and these clever song title choices work particularly well. Beginning with the first section, they are “Strangers in the Night,” “Little White Lies,” “Everything Happens to Me,” and “Ill Wind.”


For me, three of the book’s fourteen stories especially stand-out, but with the exception of perhaps two others, they are all fun to read. One of my favorites is Barbara Fitch’s “Sunrise,” a revenge-story that doesn’t work out quite as one woman hoped it would despite her determination to rid the world of the evil man who ruined her life years earlier. A similar story, and another favorite, is editor DeMarco-Barrett’s “The Water Holds You Still” in which a woman learns that her brother has been looting the home and bank accounts of their mother who suffers from dementia in order to pay for all the drugs and booze he consumes. As in “Sunrise,” she ends up enlisting a less-than-reliable partner to help her solve the problem.


And then, there’s “Octagon Girl” by Chris J. Bahnsen. It is no accident that this is one of the most disturbing stories in the collection because it deals so frankly with the domestic abuse of a woman and her eleven-year-old son by the woman’s latest boyfriend - a man who has probably never in his life seen a steroid he didn’t like. I realize this will be a difficult read for some, but it does turn out to be one of the most satisfying stories in Palm Springs Noir for good reason.


Bottom Line: Palm Springs Noir is, I’m pretty sure, the sixteenth Akashic Books noir series collection that I’ve read, and I swear they just keep getting better and better. I hope this series goes on forever. 


Editor and Contributor Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

12 comments:

  1. After loving my first crime noir: Cold Caller, Jason Starr, this collection appeals to me. I like that it's short stories as well. Off to look intothis a bit more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you find an Akashic collection that particularly appeals to you, Diane. Half the fun is reading stories set in a city or region that you're already pretty familiar with.

      Delete
  2. That is a new series to me, thanks for pointing it out. I do like noir detective novels and have been to Palm Springs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love this series, Terra. I haven't visited Palm Springs but some of these writers so vividly portray the sociology and geography of the area that I feel like I have now.

      Delete
  3. You know I like this Akashic series, and I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely another good collection, Cathy. I think you'll find a whole lot to like about it.

      Delete
  4. How interesting that the titles of the stories are from Sinatra songs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jen, it's the four "sections" of the book that use Sinatra song titles, not each of the stories. I probably wouldn't have noticed, but a couple of the titles jumped out at me and made me curious enough to check the other two.

      Delete
  5. You've found even more interesting short stories. You'll convert me yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm hoping to get you convinced yet, Dorothy. Short stories make up a lot of my overall reading. I love genre compilations like this one.

      Delete
  6. I have to admit, I haven't read much noir fiction. I'm glad you ended up liking most of these short stories! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a good collection, Lark, and fully met my high expectations. Almost always, I end up loving two or three, enjoying the bulk of them, and near-despising one or two. This one fell right into that pattern.

      Delete