Murder and Mischief in Denver
Bruce Von Stiers
As a kid, I was enthralled by characters such as Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade. I never knew that the style of novels that they graced the pages of were called noir. As an adult, I came to know the term noir and have been treated to great novels of that style by writers such as James Ellroy, Walter Mosley and even Andrew Vachss.
As much a fan of noir novels, I have also been a fan of short stories written in that style. Not only have those stories been showcased in mystery magazines, but they have also been part of anthologies or short story collections.
One such short story collection has just been published. Each story in the collection uses the city of Denver as a backdrop. The title of this collection is Denver Noir. It was published by Akashic Books.
The book is broken down into three parts. The first is The Longest Wickedest Street. The second section is titled 5.280' and the third part is Things To Do In Denver When You're Young. Each story has a specific neighborhood or section of Denver that they occur in. The book has fourteen stories along with an introduction and a section with author profiles. The introduction was written by Cynthia Swanson who also edited the collection and provided a story for it.
The street that the title of the first part references is Colfax Avenue. Apparently it was given that nefarious name by Playboy magazine. There are four stories in that part that use Colfax Avenue as an anchor point.
The first story is Colfax and Havana. It was written by David Heksa Wanbli Weiden, author of the thriller Winter Counts. Griffin Germaine is a Native American attorney practicing in Denver. He takes on a child support case from an old friend. But as things move forward, Griffin finds he might have made a mistake in taking the case. The story takes a decided twist at the end, and not for the better. I kind of figured out how it was going to end, but I liked how the author played it out.
Next is A Life of Little Consequence. LaVonda may have seen something that could make trouble for someone she knows. The story involves a murder and a supposed ironclad alibi. Throw in a sexual encounter that ultimately ends badly and you have a great story. This one was written by Twanna LaTrice Hill, who is an actor, educator and activist as well as being an author.
Moving graves from one cemetery to another is what Pieces of Everyone, Everywhere is about. The story takes place in the late 1800's and involves a young person who has run away from home. A hidden identity, a sexual assault, retribution and respecting the dead are melded elements of the story. This is the story that Cynthia Swanson provided. Her novel, The Bookseller, was a New York Times bestseller. As a period piece, this story was nicely done.
A missing teenage girl is the focus of Tough Girls. The mother insists her daughter was a good girl, her friends paint a different story. Native American P.I. Naiche Becente will have to wade through a bunch of stuff to find out the truth. Did the girl run away, was she kidnapped or something far more horrendous? The author plants some clues early in the story so you might guess some of what happens later. But I really liked the story. Erika T. Wurth is the author of this story. Her horror novel, Whitehorse, has been published by Flatiron/Macmillan.
Beginning the second part of the book is Peter Heller. He is the author of such novels as The Dog Star. His story in this collection is The Lake. A novelist takes their paddleboard out early each morning on the lake they live on. But what they do when they are at the lake is disturbing. Vigilantism is the main thrust of this story, which is as intriguing as it is disturbing.
R. Alan Brooks is the artist behind a weekly comic for the Colorado Sun and the author of two top rated graphic novels. His offering for this collection is a graphic short story titled A Baker's Duckling. It is an interesting tale of white supremacy and justice.
No Gods was written by Amy Drayer. An angry lesbian and the closing of an iconic gay bar are central elements to the story. It took me a bit to figure out where the author was going with the story. Drayer had her first novel, Revelation, published in 2020.
Wayne Furlong is a Denver P.I. in the story Junk Feed. He is hired to look into an unsolved murder at a hotel. But he has a secret identity as a food critic that may negatively impact his investigating the case. As I really like stories involving P.I.'s I think that this was my favorite of the collection. The story was written by Mark Stevens, who is the author of the Allison Coil mystery series.
Shootings of white people in a predominantly Hispanic section of Denver is what starts out Northside Nocturne. Gentrification is changing the neighborhood and it just might be causing someone to do something to alter that by trying to scare off the white people. The story revolves around one young man, his mother and his cousin. While I figured a tragedy would happen to one of them, I was surprised at how the story ended. The story was written by Manuel Ramos, the author of eleven crime novels.
Barbara Nickless kicks off the final part of the book with her story Ways of Escape. Nickless has a new mystery thriller series out, but her earlier books dealt with a railroad cop who has a canine partner. So, it's no surprise that the story here deals with trains. The story is about a girl named Persephone who wants to escape her abusive father. Hopping a train going out of her town and riding it to Denver is the plan. But something goes awry during that trip. And she knows her father has someone looking for her, but will he catch with her? The author provides a good backstory to show why Persephone needs to get away. Having really liked her writing before, I expected a great story from Nickless and it was.
Sangre is a story from D.L. Cordero. They write fantasy sci-fi, including characters from marginalized communities in their work. In this story, Rogelio is a young man who wants to be something else. He hears the spirit of his dead aunt, giving him encouragement and guidance. To me, this story was more of a human drama than anything else. But that is a good thing. Throughout the story, the author gives insight of Rogelio's desires and what is calling to him.
Not only am I a fan of noir fiction, I am also a fan of jazz. Especially some of the classic artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. There is a story in the book that has both noir and jazz mixed in. The story is Dreaming of Ella. It was written by Francella Belton. Her work has been in several publications and she was a finalist in a major story writing competition. The main character of the story is Morgan Marshall. He is the trumpet player in the house band for a jazz club. One night Ella Fitzgerald comes to the club. Morgan is all set to play for her when a family emergency occurs. This emergency may ruin his chance to play for Ella and maybe join her band. But as things happen, Morgan makes an error in judgement that doesn't turn out well. I really liked this story for not only its jazz foundation, but the way the author presented Morgan's situation so he had no other choice but to make that error in judgement.
On Grasmere Lake is a story about retribution for an abusive husband and father. The story details the struggles that Nithi and her mother, Priya, have in dealing with the dad. We learn that he died, but it isn't until later in the story it is revealed how it happened. It is a good, solid noir story. It was written by Mathangi Subramanian, whose work includes the novel A People's History of Heaven and the middle grade book, Dear Mrs. Naidu.
El Amero is the final story of the collection. The lead character is Rafael, who is a whiz at disabling “smart” guns. He goes to the apartment of Toro, the leader of a gang, to do his thing on some guns there. But that is not all that Toro has in mind. There is a bit of backstory, but the crux of things is what is about to happen. It was a good story with a certain grittiness makes helps define it as noir. The author of the story is Mario Acevedo, who also writes the best selling Felix Gomez detective vampire series.
Denver Noir is a great collection of stories. From P.I.'s to disappearing teens to period pieces to retribution, the stories cover a variety of adverse events and circumstances. Each of the authors provided interesting and engaging material. Of all of the authors, I was only familiar with Barbara Nickless. But this book has made me want to find other works by all of the other authors featured in it.
Denver Noir is available at amazon and Barnes and Noble among other online and traditional book retailers.
You can find additional information about Denver Noir and Akashic Books at http://www.akashicbooks.com/
Back to the BVS Reviews Main Menu
© 2022 Bruce E Von Stiers