Noir Kansas City Style

Bruce Von Stiers

I live about an hour west of Kansas City. I've probably been there too many times to even count. Not only does Kansas City have great shopping opportunities, it has a World Series winning baseball team, The Kansas City Royals, and the Super Bowl winning football team, The Kansas City Chiefs. The city is known for its BBQ and is touted as one of the birthplaces of jazz.

Kansas City has also had its share of shady characters and obscure crime. Sort of building on that premise is a volume of short stories published by Akashic Books. This book is one of the publisher's Noir series. The title of the book is Kansas City Noir.

There are fourteen stories in the book, each by a different author. And each story covered a different area or neighborhood in Kansas City. I was only familiar with two of the authors, Nancy Pickard, and John Lutz.

The book was edited by Steve Paul, who was a staff writer and editor for the Kansas City Star newspaper. In addition to editing it, Paul wrote the introduction for the book. Three parts separate the stories: Heartland, Crazy Little Women and Smoke & Mirrors.

Missing Gene is the first story. It has to do with a guy missing his friend Gene. He's also trying to figure out if going to Montana is something he wants to do. He's also dealing with a girlfriend and her annoying mother. I kept getting the feeling that something had happened to Gene and the guy was behind it. But the story took a different course that I had imagined. It was a decent story written by J. Malcolm Garcia, who has written two well received non-fiction books and numerous anthologized essays.

The story Cat in the Box deals with women coming up missing and later dead. The detective on the case is looking for leads. He also comes a across a cat that plays into the story. It is part detecting and part retribution. A good noir story, it was written by Kevin Prufer. Although well known for his poetry, Prufer has had mystery stories published in Crimewave and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Grace Suh wrote a deviously fun tale titled Mission Hills Confidential. A wife has had enough or her husband's new friends and his new bad habits. But what is a good, loving wife to do? Suh is an artist as well as an author, with an impressive list of awards and endowments.

A major crush on a femme fatale is the gist of Come Murder Me Next, Babe. It is an interesting story written by Daniel Woodrell, whose books include Winter's Bone, which was made into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Another interesting story dealt with the adult children of mass murderers. The title of the story is The Softest Crime, and it was written by Matthew Eck. His novel, The Farther Shore, won a national fiction award and has been translated into German and Norwegian.

Phillip Stevens is a poet and music writer. His story for this book is You Shouldn't Be Here. It is a tale of prostitution, human trafficking and trying to do the right thing. It is a definite noir tale. And as a bonus for me, my city, Topeka, is mentioned in the story.

When your girlfriend is a cop and you're in the hospital with a gunshot wound, there are a lot of questions. The victim who got shot is LaDonna and she might not survive. The title for this twisty story is The Incident and it was written by Catherine Browder. She is a playwriter and fiction author.

Protecting your garden and dealing with over-the-top neighbors is the foundation for The Good Neighbor. This is a good noir story with a bit of twist ending. It was by Linda Rodriguez, who also wrote the award-winning mystery novel, Every Last Secret.

I've read and enjoyed a few of John Lutz's novels. I was delighted to find a story from him in the book. It is an off-kilter Thelma & Louise type of tale titled Thelma and Laverne. I expected this to be a good story. And it was even better than I thought it might be.

Remembrances from childhood can come back to haunt you. It's as true in fiction as it is in real life. Lightbulb is such a story. It was written by Nancy Pickard, who is the author of the Eugenia Potter mystery series among others.

A fictionalized version of an iconic Kansas City watering hole and its owner is in the noir story Yesterdays. It is about Milton Morris and his bar, Milton's Tap Room. Someone shows up demanding that Milton owes money. But Milton has disappeared. Is he dead, or just wanting people to think he is? This is a great story from Andres Rodriguez, a poet and author of Night Song and Book of the Heart.

Losing a job you've loved for years and getting back at the boss is what the story Last Night At The Rialto is about. Marty is selling off the dilapidated movie house and doesn't care who is left in the dust. Well, Rance, the longtime projectionist, may have the last laugh This is a really good tale of retribution with some film history built in. The story is by Mitch Brian. He is a screenwriter, whose works include Batman: The Animated Series.

Top-notch barbeque, mob debt and rappers all meld together in Charlie Price's Last Dinner. This is a fantastic noir tale from Nadia Pflaum, an award-winning investigative journalist and author.

The final story of the book is The Pendergast Musket. It is about a stolen weapon and the owner of a bar. A nice, solid noir story, it was written by Phong Nguyen, whose stories have graced the pages of numerous literary magazines.

Kansas City Noir is a very, very good collection of noir stories. I thoroughly enjoyed each story. It was an impressive entry in the publisher's Noir series.

Kansas City Noir is available through amazon and other book retailers. You can also get it directly from the publisher. You will find their web site at

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© 2022 Bruce E Von Stiers