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USA NOIR
by Johnny Temple, ed.
Akashic, December 2013
548 pages
$16.95
ISBN: 1617751847


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Noir is one of my favourite crime fiction genres, and with no less than fifty-nine volumes of noir published, and another twenty in preparation, the folks at Akashic Books pretty well have a lock on my loyalties. Their latest offering is USA NOIR, a compendium of dark tales spanning more than two dozen diverse locations, from Seattle to Cape Cod, the Adirondacks to Miami. It's a sumptuous feast for crime fiction fans, and when it arrived I set everything else aside and waded in, like an inner-city urchin who suddenly finds himself locked in the candy section of a large department store overnight.

As with any anthology, some offerings are stronger than others. But you only have to skim the table of contents to realize that there will be something (likely many things) here to satisfy almost any reader's taste. A brief list of contributors includes Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Joyce Carol Oates, Reed Farrel Coleman, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Lee Child, Don Winslow, Laura Lippman, S. J. Rozen, T. Jefferson Parker, William Kent Krueger, Lawrence Block, and Jeffrey Deaver. When you take into account that that list covers only about one-third of the authors, you begin to appreciate just how rich this collection is.

Several tales captured my imagination and left me wanting more. In "The Confidential Informant" George Pelecanos captures the pathos in the life of Verdon Coates, a young DC police snitch, who yearns to make his folks proud of him. When he learns of a homicide involving one of his friends, he sets out to solve it, but Vernon is out of his depth, and when the killers learn he's been nosing around, they come looking for him. Verdon is about to learn that sometimes justice simply isn't an option.

Michael Connelly reminds us that often the only kind of justice to be had is cosmic, in his slyly-titled "Mulholland Dive." When a police detective specializing in forensic reconstruction of vehicle accidents surveys a fatal crash in the hills above Los Angeles, the evidence is clear: the victim had swerved on the serpentine road, perhaps to avoid a deer, and had plunged his expensive Porsche Carrera down a ravine. The victim had been worth tens of millions - big money even by LA's jaded standards - but it couldn't buy him immortality. That's not the half of it, of course, but to reveal more would be to spoil the tale.

In "Mastermind" Reed Farrel Coleman pens a delicious tale about an ex-con named Jeff Ziegfield. Known as J-Zig, he's keeping his head barely above water by selling stolen car parts and fake Ecstasy pills outside clubs, and occasionally supplying the muscle for local loan sharks. Viewed as a loser by those who know him, J-Zig is yearning to pull a job that will make those around him sit up and take notice. When he finally comes up with a scheme to rob a major gold and jewellery exchange J-Zig throws himself into it, planning things down to the smallest detail. And it's brilliant, almost perfect. Almost.

In "Lighthouse," S. J. Rozen chronicles the saga of Paul, a Staten Island druggie specializing in B&E. Egged on by a couple of friends and the need to pay for more smack, he's set his sights on ripping off a small museum filled with valuable antiques. Paul had visited the place many times, knows where things are, knows the alarms. It has been closed for many years, though, the nuns who ran it having long since disappeared. A piece of cake, right?

In USA NOIR we are treated to range of tales by accomplished writers, and reflecting the diversity of the nation. Each draws on the dark worlds, flawed characters, and jaded mood intrinsic to the genre we have come to call Noir. If you're a fan, you're in for a real treat. If you're not a fan, try it you just might change your mind.

______

SINCE 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on such websites as Spinetingler, The Rap Sheet, Shots Magazine, Crime Time, Reviewing The Evidence, January magazine, and the Montreal Review of Books, as well as on his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, December 2013

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