Showing posts with label Akashic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Akashic. Show all posts

Sunday, June 9, 2019

'Mocking Season, by Christi Clancy

"'Mocking Season," by Christi Clancy, in Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance reading copy of this book.

This is a disturbing story, and I mean that as a compliment.  Here is how it starts:

Back when there were still trees in Whitefish Bay, the boys started sleeping in the hammocks they hung from them.

All sorts of things are foreshadowed in that simple sentence.

Whitefish Bay is apparently a pleasant bit of suburbia until it disturbed by the arrival of Erin, who we might perhaps call a middle-aged hippy.  She lived in the one home that was not visible from the street, which disturbs the keepers of community norms, "the mothers," who feel that "It didn't seem right to live where you couldn't be seen."

More importantly, her son Leif was so charismatic that all the boys in the neighborhood start to copy him - including 'mocking, or sleeping outdoors in hammocks.  They also take up marimba, an instrument at which Leif is expert.

But what disturbs the mothers even more is that Erin lets her yard run wild.  While everyone else is battling bugs and weeds with ever increasing doses of of chemicals, she listens to her boyfriend Cody, a horticulturalist who takes a more organic route.  This leads to conflict which leads to, well. other things.

You may say that the reactions of some of the characters are unrealistic, but that is precisely what makes the story so disturbing.   It reminded me of a certain novel and a certain short story, but that would be giving away too much.

A fine story.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Use of Landscape, by Robert Boswell

"The Use of Landscape," by Robert Boswell, in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance reader copy of this book.

I want to start by acknowledging the cleverness of editor Zepeda.  These noir city books are always divided into three or four sections and the editor has to come up with names for them, which are often subtle or less subtle references to Crime, Money, Sex, etc.  Here are the dividers Zepeda used: Desirable Locations With Private Security, Peaceful Hamlets Great For Families, Minutes From Downtown and Nightlife, and Up-and-Coming Areas Newly Revitalized. 

And deep in Desirable Locations, Robert Boswell has offered us a charming story about sociopaths.  Cole is the planner.  We are told he loves no one.  Doesn't care much about sex although he will use it to get what he wants, which is money.  Not much interested in buying things with it; money is just a way of keeping score.

His girlfriend is Herta.  They met when she tried to rob him.  She says he will eventually try to kill her, but hey, she's not perfect either.

Tariq rounds out the crew.  He's a bartender and an expert on cleaning crime scenes. Tariq has pointed Cole to a young woman, rich in money, poor in personality and brain power.

"Did I tell you what happened at Affirm today?" Madelyn asked.  Affirm was her gym.  She described the days activities in excruciating detail, a saga that lasted nearly twenty minutes.  Summary: she exercised.

You will be mightily entertained as the trio the narrator calls the Criminal Element plot their nastiness while discussing women's underwear and the books of Virginia Woolf.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Kaddish for Lazar, by Michael Wuliger

"Kaddish for Lazar," by Michael Wuliger, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book.

"You're Jewish, aren't you?" the editor of Blitz Magazine asked me.
"Yes, I am." I felt uncomfortable.  "Why do you want to know?" That kind of question coming from Germans irritates me.  It runs in the family, I guess.
"Then you must have known Mark Lazar well," he said.

Because obviously all 30,000 of the Jews in Berlin must know each other, right?

Great opening for this story in which a freelance journalist is asked to look into the death by drowning of a prominent politician.  Suicide, accident, or something else?  Could his death be related to his immigrating from Russia after the Soviet Union fell?  Or to his plans to run for mayor?

The investigation is very interesting, the effect it has on the narrator even more so.  This is a very cynical story, which makes it very noir indeed.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Dora, by Zöe Beck

"Dora," by Zöe Beck, in Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas  Wörtche, Akashic Press, 2019.

Big typo corrected.  Apologies.

This is the second appearance here by Beck.

Take a look at her.  Even if it's hard.
You won't want to look at her because she stinks and is filthy from head to toe.  You think you know what you'll see but take a look anyway.

That's how the story starts.  It seems like a bit of sociological fiction, an analysis of a mentally ill homeless person.  But there's a lot more going on here.

The narrator is Dora's brother.  He explains in detail how his sister's life has slowly derailed and  the damage it has done to the whole family.

And then, well, things happen.  Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, once said, as I recall, that she likes stories that turn out to be something different than they appear.  I suppose that is almost but not identical to a twist ending.  Read "Dora" for an excellent example.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

In The Court of the Lion King, by Mark Dapin

"In The Court of the Lion King," by Mark Dapin, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book.

I have read novels with less plot than this story.  Somehow Dapin manages to keep all the balls in the air.

The narrator, Chevy, is a half-Laotian architect.  He is on remand - that is, in prison awaiting trial  - because the police think he killed his best friend, Jamie.  A security camera caught them fighting, and Jamie hasn't been seen since.

Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer.  Jesse is his former lover and a very complicated person.  ("I used to say that I only loved for people -- two of them were Jesse...")  Unfortunately, no aspects of  her personality involve legal skills.

And then there are the Vietnamese in the prison that want him dead, apparently because he is Laotian.

I haven't even mentioned the Lion King, a gang boss who runs the cell block.  He is a truly disgusting person and is taking an unhealthy interest in our hero.

If I listed all the other threads in this tale you would think it was some kind of postmodern experimental fiction, all bits and pieces that don't connect.

Don't worry.  The author knows what he's doing.  But does Chevy?




Monday, March 25, 2019

The Passenger, by Kirsten Tranter

"The Passenger," by Kirsten Tranter, in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book which opens with a pastiche of, or homage to, a well-known crime novel.  It's a very clever piece of work.

Robert has just arrived home after years overseas.  He reluctantly attends a birthday party for an acquaintance named Fred.  The reason for his reluctance is that Fred's daughter is Robert's former lover, who cheated with, and then married, Julian, a friend of Robert's.

Fred confides that Julian has disappeared with a trace.  Perhaps Robert can inquire among their mutual friends? It turns out that that bunch had been pushers and users and Robert doesn't want to get involved with them.

But he gets drawn in and discovers some terrible stuff going in.  You might say that the biggest difference between this story and the book that inspired it is the question of nature versus nurture: Which is responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred?


Monday, February 18, 2019

The Stranger Inside Me, by Loes den Hollander

"The Stranger Inside Me," by Loes den Hollander, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

You could call this a ghost story but you probably won't.  The narrator is a troubled young man who gets regular nightly visits from Ted Bundy.  The deceased serial killer (we never read his actual words) wants him to carry on the tradition by killing women who resemble ones who got away from Bundy.


This disturbs our protagonist enough that his arguments with said killer wake his mother who brings in a social worker.  He isn't very fond of the caseworker.  He doesn't seem to get along with anyone, really...


A very creepy story, although thankfully not filled with gore and horror.  Many surprises along the way.

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

It Follows Until It Leads, by Dillon Kaiser

"It Follows Until It Leads," by Dillon Kaiser, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

We are very noir today, with a sense of doom hanging over every page of this story.  Here is the opening paragraph:

My papa died when I was a baby, shot in the crossfire between the cartel and the police.

Our narrator grows up to be a soldier for the cartel but he swears to get his family out of the life and into the United States.  He succeeds, but how long can a good thing last.

At one point there is a gun in his house and he says "eso infecta."  It is infected.  He isn't referring to anything as natural as a germ, just a very human illness.

Grim and moving.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Treasure island, by Micah Perks

"Treasure island," by Micah Perks, in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.

I admit I may be prejudiced about this story because I just finished watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and in my head I can hear Alan Arkin reciting the whole tale. 

In any case Perks has come up with something delightful and hilarious.

Mr. Nowicki is, he tells us, "a seventy-two-two-year-old retired middle school assistant principal who has lived in Grant Park for forty years."  He is furious about what is happening in his neighborhood so he has gone to a website called Good Neighbor!(tm) to report what he sees.

And he has strong opinions about that.  For example he has a problem with his neighbor who is (the internal quotation marks are his): "a 'writer' who 'works' from home.  ('Writer' always takes morning tea on his porch in his pajamas and at five p.m., takes cocktail on porch, still in his pajamas.  You've probably seen him on your way to and from actual work.)"

Then there is a young woman, possibly a thief, possibly something else, who claims to be named Jim  Hawkins.   Takes Mr. Nowicki a while to figure out why. 

One more quote from our hero, after he has seen "three apparently Hispanic males, ages approximately eight or nine years old," putting trash in said neighbors "Little Library."

I descend, which takes some time due to bum hip, retrieve plastic bag and 'trash grabber' ($6.47, Amazon Prime, you can read my review, three stars because the sharp tongs are dangerous), exit house, open gate, cross street to nieighbor's 'Little Library" (a glassed-in cabinet painted a glaring aqua, plunked onto a post).

Glad you're taking an interest, Mr. Nowicki.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Devil's Island, by Mensje van Keulen

"Devil's Island," by Mensje van Keulen, in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2019.

To get the Full Disclosure bit out of the way: Akashic Press sent me this book for free, for which I am grateful.  One of the editors, Josh Pachter, is a friend of mine.  Now on to the main course.

And what a treat it is.  The narrator is trying to be helpful to his friend, Jacob, who is becoming a real pain.  Jacob's girlfriend has left him and he can't seem to get over it.  On one bad night he even says "I'd sell [the devil] my soul if he'd make Martha come back to me."

Later that evening they are standing among the cigarette puffers outside a pub when a stranger comes out of the smoke and asks Jacob for a light.  He says that he prefers the old-fashioned wooden matches called lucifers.  "I like the smell of them, though, that momentary blast of sulfur..."


This is a story built on details, cleverly used. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

This Quintessence of Dust, by Marshall Moore

"This Quintessence of Dust," by Marshall Moore, in Hong Kong Noir, edited by Jason Y. Ng and Susan Blumberg-Kason, Akashic Press, 2018.

I should say I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  Thanks much.

Some stories start off so strongly that I am rooting for them.  This one started so slowly I didn't really expect it to go anywhere.  Obviously I was wrong.

The narrator is a Hong Kong native, a gay man, who has just returned after breaking up with his lover in England.  Something else happened back there, something bad, but we won't get the details for a while.

He is living on Cheung Chau, a small island off the main part of Hong Kong.  For some reason a lot of people go there to die.  His parents have made a lot of money investing in the resulting depressed prices: "Investing in Suicide Island took a certain sangfroid unique to the Chinese. [Mom] was a bank manager.  Death could be lucrative."

Then there are his two uncles who are doing well, but the source of whose money is not clear.  And a young woman he meets drowns herself.

How does all this connect to our protagonist, and his very much alive ex-lover back in Britain?  All shall be revealed and it shall be surprising...


Monday, October 1, 2018

Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking, by Sheena Kamal

"Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking," by Sheena Kamal, in Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe, Akashic Press, 2018.  

Mags is writing a note to her boss whom she does not like very much.  Since he does a lot of public speaking and is not so good at it, she offers him some friendly advice.  Well, maybe not so friendly.

2. Use the stage, but don't pace.  It makes you look like an asshole when you do that.  All those years you spent dodging the homeless and the addicts on Hastings has [sic] made you surprisingly agile for a man your age but you don't need to advertise this during your speeches.  Plus, your fashion sense can't hold up to that kind of scrutiny... 

Turns out her boss has a whole lot of dirty secrets.  Turns out Mags, his much mistreated executive assistant, knows all of them.  And the worm has begun to turn.

A charming tale of revenge. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Uncle Sam, by Leye Adenle

"Uncle Sam," by Leye Adenle, in Lagos Noir, edited by Chris Abani, Akashic Press, 2018.

This is Adenle's second appearance in this column.

Many is the time I have kicked myself for not seeing the ending of a story coming.  This time I should have seen the subject coming.

This is a book of crime stories about Nigeria.  Of course there had to be a story about the 419 scheme.  You may know that better as the Nigerian Prince scam.  "I am the widow of the head of an oil company and I need the help of some honest foreign stranger to illegally smuggle zillions of bucks out of Nigeria..."  419 refers to the section of the Nigerian criminal code which (attempts to) ban such things.

Which brings us to Dougal, newly arrived at the airport in Lagos, and terrified that he may have gotten himself into a you-know-what.  Apparently an uncle he didn't know he had has died, leaving him a ton of money.  He has to come to Lagos in person to collect it.  Someone who claims to represent his uncle's law firm has even provided the money for him to fly there. What could possibly go wrong?

There are bad guys in Lagos, but there are good guys too.  Can Dougal tell them apart?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Joy, by Wale Lawal

"Joy," by Wale Lawal, in Lagos Noir, edited by Chirs Abani, Akashic Press, 2018.

Third person narrative is the norm.  First person has advantages and limitations.  Second person is a gimmick. (And here is the best second-person story I have ever read.)


This story tells (in second person) about a pregnant wife who hires a house servant named Joy.  It is clear that the master-servant relationship in Nigeria would not be acceptable in the U.S. (Displaying all her possessions when she arrives?  Kneeling when she speaks?)

But the protagonist begins to suspect that Joy has nefarious intentions, especially about her husband.  Is this a pregnant woman with a dangerous delusion, or is something worse happening here? Somebody is going to get hurt...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sure Thing, by David Rich

"Sure Thing," by David Rich, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

If a leopard had strolled up the stairs and into the big room, or a giggling leprechaun had slid down a light beam, the reactions of the patrons at Sports Haven could not have been any stronger.  

Nice writing, that.  The cause of the shock was a beautiful actress named Addie walking into the sports bar.  Not a very classy place, apparently.

"What kind of wine do you have?"

"The kind that used to be red when I opened it three weeks ago and the kind that used to be white."

The bartender delivering that bad news is Pete, and Pete has a secret or two.  He helps Addie out of a messy situation and some secrets are revealed.  The result puts both of their lives in danger.   

Very satisfactory story.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Crossing Harry, by Chris Knopf

"Crossing Harry," by Chris Knopf, in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

Knopf is making his second appearance here.

I am very fond of what I call heightened language, which simply means that the words do something more than get us from the beginning of the story to the end.  It doesn't have to been high-falutin' fancy words.  Hemingway's monosyllabic language told us a lot about the world he was describing.

This story has a good plot but it is the language that puts it over the top.  Here is our nameless protagonist, a homeless man, explaining his love of biology.

I'd loved it since I was a kid.  I'd absolutely be hunched over a lab counter right now if I hadn't had that little hiccup with the voices in my head and the collusion of the Yale Board of Trustees, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Satanic Monks of Aquitaine to deprive me of my undergraduate position.

Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

But our hero is pretty cheerful.  He likes his "house [which] is this nice little spot under the railroad tracks that mostly keeps out the rain and snow."

Of course, some conflict must occur even in this paradise, and it takes the form of a very strange man at Union Station whom no one notices except the homeless man and Harry.  Did I mention Harry?  No one can see him except our narrator, because he's from another dimension.  But Harry isn't the problem.  It's the elegantly dressed man with a canvas bag full of-- well, nothing nice.

Don't worry, though.  Our guy and Harry are on the case.  And a terrific case it is.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Bubble, by Jennifer Harlow

"The Bubble," by Jennifer Harlow, in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.

I have started reading the Akashic Press Noir City volumes for 2017, so it must be time for my annual rant: Noir does not mean gloomy.  Noir fiction must involve crime or the threat of crime.  Okay?

That's essential, but we can expand.  Ideally, noir involves this: A nobody tries to become somebody.  For this effrontery they are curb stomped by the universe.  Crime in involved.   Often the nobody is led to disaster by a love/lust interest.

Jennifer Harlow certainly understands all of that.  Her story involves not only noir but another French term: femme fatale.  That would be Maddie, a teenager in Peachtree City, who is sick to death of her privileged life among snobs, absentee parents, and the self-medicated.  She decides to commit murder, just for excitement, and power, and, let's face it, because she is evil.

But she isn't working alone.  Her reluctant partner in crime is Emma, who is not as smart, not as pretty, and desperately in  love with Maddie.  Is Maddie willing to use her sexuality to manipulate Emma into crime?  Oh, yes.

Does our tale of thrill killers meet the definition of classic noir?  To some degree that depends on whether you think Emma has interpreted events correctly. I'll let you decide.  But I'll tell you for free that it's a very good story.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Wait, by Flávio Carneiro

"The Wait,"  by Flávio Carneiro, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

Bear with me.  This may get a little philosophical at the start.  We will get to the story.

 I would like to suggest that some fiction really is genre fiction and some uses genre fiction.  Wears it like a cloak to cover what is really going on.  And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Jorge Luis Borges' brilliant story "The Garden of Forking Paths" is about a spy doing spy things.  But is it a spy story?  Not exactly.  Is George Orwell's Animal Farm a fable or a political satire that uses the fable form?

Okay.  Getting to this week's favorite.  A beautiful woman walks into the office of a private eye.  Sound familiar?

Detective Andre has an office in downtown Rio.  Marina wants him to find a man.  Again, still familiar.

But now the ground shifts under us a bit.  All she knows about the man is that he has been following her every day for weeks. Now he has stopped and she wants him to start again.

Andre and his sidekick, Fats - or is Fats the brains of the operation? - set out to find the guy.  Much philosphizing occurs.  Roland Barthes is invoked.

The place where what we might call experimental fiction - those cloaked-in-genre things - tend to fall apart is the ending.  Some of these authors seem to take pride in not writing the last page, leaving you wondering what happened and why you bothered to read the damned thing.

Carniero is not guilty of that.  I found his ending quite satisfactory, as was the whole story.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Toned Cougars, by Tony Bellotto

"Toned Cougars," by Tony Bellotto, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

I have been known to complain about these Akashic Press books, specifically that the editors sometimes don't seem to know what noir is.  No complaints about this story (which happens to be written by the book's editor).  It follows the formula perfectly.

Our protagonist is a fortyish beach bum who makes his living romancing older women.  His latest conquest, if that's the word, is older than his mother, but he finds himself falling in love, much to his discomfort.

Turns out she has a wealthy husband she doesn't much care for.  Turns out she thinks our hero could solve that problem for her.

And if you have read any noir you may suspect it won't end with champagne and wedding cakes.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Lord of Madison County, by Jimmy Cajoleas

"The Lord of Madison County," by Jimmy Cajoleas, in Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin. Akashic Press, 2016.

What do you find at the corner of Noir and Southern Gothic?  Wicked young ladies, for one thing.

Douglas is a teenager who has come up with the perfect place to sell drugs: his church's youth group.  Pastor Jerry loves the kids' ecstatic enthusiasm and doesn't have a clue as to what's going on.  He also doesn't know what's going on between his young daughter and Douglas.

But another adult gets Douglas  into trouble with his dealer and things, in fine Noir fashion, go to hell.  What I love about this story is that it is full of classic Noir characters but you can't predict what will happen based on the standard stereotypes.  Some of them go off in surprising directions.  Very nice piece of work.