The Akashic Noir series of crime anthologies always offer intelligent entertainment. Sometimes the theme, be it a city or country or a specific situation can be a little drowned out by the individual narratives. I’ve read some Akashic collections where you might not be able to identify the theme if it weren’t obviously splattered all over the front cover.
Not so with the New Orleans selection. These stories couldn’t have come from anywhere else, and they all reflect the city’s turbulent recent history.
‘New Orleans Noir’ is a collection of 18 short stories all set in that city in Louisiana. They are roughly split half-and-half into stories which are set in the days before Hurricane Katrina and ones which take place during the storm and in its aftermath.
The Akashic Noir series of anthologies contain all-new short crime stories based around a distinct location – a city, neighbourhood or location which has its own unique flavour. That flavour is represented in the stories which aim to be more than just whodunnit mysteries or thriller tales. The most successful stories work upon multiple levels, exploring the history and social culture of the area and weave that background into tales of violence, betrayal, murder and more.
Inevitably, any anthology published in recent years with New Orleans at its core is going to reflect the massive upheaval of Hurricane Katrina and its ongoing effects and a portion of the profits from this book go to writing-related charities in that city. As is also often the way with anthologies, there were quite a few stories in this collection which didn’t ring any bells with me at all – in a couple of cases the cultural references went straight past me and I finished one or two stories with a distinct ‘so what?’ feeling.
There are some real winners in here, though. I particularly enjoyed David Fulmer’s ‘Algiers’, set back in 1905 when cheating at cards could get you dead. Laura Lippman’s ‘Pony Girl’ runs to just ten pages but it perfectly evoked the clamour and confusion of a more modern Mardi Gras when a killer stalks the streets. There’s love among the death and destruction, too; ‘All I Could Do Is Cry’ is set in the Lower Ninth Ward and examines the corrosive effect of gang culture upon young families. And the story of hoodwinking a violent thief – set in the swamps during the civil war years – was a delight. Even after the misery of destruction that Katrina wrought there are some moment of redemption (‘Lawyers’ Tongues), and clever writing with a laugh-out-loud twist (Annunciation Shotgun).
If you don’t enjoy short stories then there’s no reason to pick up this collection; it suffers from the usual problem that it is extremely hard to establish an interesting character in just a few thousand words, never mind develop and resolve a short plot. But the location-based theme really helps; you develop a feel for the different aspects of New Orleans as the stories roll by. I’ve visited a few times and can certainly recognise the city and its people in these pages. The NOLA in this book feels real and rough-edged, not like the party place which has been portrayed on the screen so often. Poverty and social deprivation inform many of the stories and the actions of the characters.
If you do enjoy crime fiction, especially when it’s set in an intriguing place, then dive in. There’s plenty of variety in this collection, and the theme worked well for me.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Akashic Noir is available to buy in various formats at Amazon