The Akashic Noir Series does two things brilliantly: it honors the short story, literature's most powerful purveyor of succinctly captivating creativity; and, it introduces readers to the noir genre in a uniquely "local" way.
The first in the series, Brooklyn Noir was published in 2004. It was edited by a lifelong - indeed, generations long - resident of that borough. This "know every dark corner" editorial approach to selecting perfectly suited stories led to a simple realization. What worked for one city might work for others in the United States and abroad.
As it turns out, this assumption was correct. This summer, twelve years after Brooklyn Noir's release, Brussels Noir, Mississippi Noir, and St. Louis Noir joined Akashic's now-long list of titles.
Those familiar with the genre know that noir is a bit like a fisherman's net. It pulses with movement. There are too many species to count. Its abundance depends on who's counting.
No one can truly "define" noir. Certainly, there are widely accepted conventions: it builds on menace, characters seem hell-bent on self-destruction, and there are no happy endings. Apart from these similarities, each writer wanders off on his or her own path. Akashic's series recognizes this, and it is both an homage and an experiment.
The introductions to these volumes are a must read. Do not disregard them as frivolous text or you'll miss a personal and evocative glimpse into the culture from which these stories spring. Likewise, we suggest also reading the "About the Contributors" section before starting in on the stories. You'll see that these authors are not "best-guessing" their content. They're not regurgitating second-hand research. They are opening their artistic veins and spilling their angels and demons onto the printed page. They are bleeding their knowledge of their government, neighborhoods and people and they don't care if you see the wounds.
Many authors chosen for these anthologies are well-known. There are Edgar winners, Pushcart Prize recipients, Ellery Queen Award winners, and honorees of Shamus and Anthony Awards. In truth, all writers in the series are worthy of recognition, even if they haven't yet received it.
The books' editors likewise deserve special commendations. Without their uncanny ability to sniff out fine storytelling, this series might be little more than random collections of short narratives. Instead, the works selected capture the very essence of their cities. In New Orleans Noir, for example, the book begins with nineteenth century offerings including O. Henry's Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking. It progresses chronologically through Katrina and beyond. Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke manages to pull off the astounding task of marrying a mob story with eloquent, terrifying details of the hurricane's aftermath. It's an experience the reader won't soon forget.
Start your journey with the three August 2016 releases mentioned above. Or, go the whole way back to 2004 and begin at the beginning. Choose titles based on cities in which you've lived. Use the series as a means of vicariously experiencing places you've always wanted to visit. There is no right way to travel through the Akashic Noir Series.
Each book in the series features peculiarly experiential fiction that, albeit dark - after all, it is noir - portrays social structures and norms unfamiliar outside of their geographic boundaries. And, of course, they are also crime stories either on conscious or sub-textual levels.
Prose 'n Cons™ highly recommends the Akashic Noir Series to new or long-time fans of noir, or anyone who appreciates the deceptively difficult and satisfying art of short story writing. For more information, visit the publisher at Akashic Books.