Noir The Classic L.A. Way
Bruce Von Stiers
I am a big fan of noir, both in film and in print. There have been a lot of great noir tales written in the recent past. But what about noir stories from the past? They and their authors represent a solid foundation for the newer and current stories.
Akashic Books has a whole series of noir story collections. Each volume in the series takes places in a specific city. From Brooklyn to Denver to the west coast, the locations vary but have a singular presence, noir.
I just finished reading a book in the noir series. This one has Los Angeles as it's geographic base. And not only that, the book features stories from classic noir authors. The title of the book is Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics.
The book contains fifteen stories and has three hundred thirty-two pages. It is broken down into four parts and each story represents a specific area or neighborhood of Los Angeles.
There is an introduction at the front of the book that was written by Denise Hamilton. She also edited the book. Hamilton is the author of the acclaimed Eve Diamond series and The Last Embrace.
Part One of the book is called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And who better to start off the book than Raymond Chandler. His story is titled I'll Be Waiting. It involves a hotel detective and a woman guest. But all is not what it seems with either the detective, Tony Reseck, or the mysterious guest. Something from Tony's past comes roaring through, the end result being something he never anticipated or wanted. Chandler definitely brings forth an interesting tale with this one.
Paul Cain wrote stories for Black Mask and, under a different name, wrote for Hollywood, including films such as The Black Cat. His offering for this collection is Murder In Blue. A handful of murders occur, seemingly unrelated. But Doolin doesn't think so and connects with someone who just might have the inside scoop on the whole thing. But, as is the way noir tales work, not everything, nor everyone, is above board. It is a really good story with a twist you might not see coming.
Paul Channing is a has-been police detective. He is trying to figure out what really happened to his brother, Henry, who had also been a cop. That's the basis for the story I Feel Bad Killing You. It is an interesting story with psychological drama mixed with mystery. This story is from Leigh Brackett. Known for writing fantasy and sci-fi, Brackett did write some mysteries in the format used by Chandler and others. She even co-wrote the scripts for the original film versions of The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.
Establishing a solid, multi-faceted alibi is the core of the story Dead Man. Having killed someone, Lucky goes through extraordinary steps to create an alibi for the murder. This is a great story by James M. Cain, one of the masters of hard-boiled and noir fiction.
Chester Hines was the creator of the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones detective series that included titles such as Cotton Comes To Harlem. His story for this collection is The Night's For Cryin'. It is a tale that has jealousy and violence that ends with a man on death row. Because of the time frame when it was written, the late 1930's, the story reflects how a lot of black men perceived then.
Part Two of the book is titled After The War. The first story there is Find The Woman. It was written by Ross McDonald, one of the great detective fiction writers. This story introduces the world to private detective Lew Archer. It is a fantastic story and lays the foundation for the many novels that McDonald wrote with Archer as the main character.
Even though it was published in 2007, The Chirashi Covenant takes place just after World War II. Helen is a Japanese American woman who befriends and ends up having a relationship with a realtor. But that relationship doesn't end too well for the guy. This tale of angst, deception, adultery, and retribution was written by Naomi Hirahara, who writes the Mas Arai mystery series.
James Ellroy has made quite a name for himself writing crime fiction. His story in this collection is called High Darktown. It involves cops, both aboveboard and bent, hardened black criminals and the rich but seamy underbelly of an affluent black section of Los Angeles. It was a really good story that shows how talented a writer that Ellroy is.
The third part of the book is titled Killer Views. It has three excellent stories in it.
Margaret Millar was the wife of Ross McDonald. An award-winning mystery writer herself, Millar has a story in this collection called The People Across The Canyon. It involves a little girl, her parents, and new neighbors. But all in not what it seems. This is as much a psychological thriller story as it is a mystery. I kind of thought I knew how the ending would unfold. But I was wrong. The story took a turn that I hadn't anticipated but was impressed by.
A murder and a seemingly unworthy life insurance beneficiary is the core of the story, Surf. It is an interesting tale that utilizes Venice as it's central location. I had forgot to mention earlier, all the stories in this collection have specific Los Angeles neighborhoods or sections that they emulate from. This particular story was written by Joseph Hansen, who had the Dave Brandstetter mystery series that ended with A Country Of Old Men.
William Campbell Gault wrote a couple of great mystery series, one featuring a former football player turned P.I. and another with a detective with the cool name of Joe Puma. He also wrote a really good story that features a P.I. who has just hung out his own shingle. The story is titled The Kerman Kill and features a missing Oriental rug, a missing young woman, and a twist or two you might not see coming.
Modern Classics is the title of the final part of the book. It contains four stories whose locations range from Watts to Bel Air.
I have liked Walter Mosley's writing ever since reading Devil In A Blue Dress, which featured black detective Easy Rollins. Mosley's story in this collection is Crimson Shadow. A boy named Darryl kills a rooster owned by Socrates Fortlow. Darryl gets caught by Socrates, who decides to teach him a lesson. It was an interesting story that while it was unfolding made me wonder if things were heading a particular direction only to have Mosley surprise me with the conclusion
Rika is a drug addicted young woman. Her family is trying to keep her clean but as the story unfolds you see that things are too far off the rails. That is the central theme of Rika, a story from Jervey Tervalon. This story is much a human drama as it is anything else. It is a good tale that very well could have been, and probably is, someone's true life story.
Lucia is about gang life and more, from a girl's perspective. Revenge seems to be the central theme of this somewhat gritty tale. It was written by Yxta Maya Murray, whose novels include Conquest, The Queen Jade and The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Kidnapped.
The final story in this collection is from Kate Braverman. Besides writing short stories, one of which won her an O Henry award, Braveman was well known for her poetry. The story for this collection is Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta. There is a woman who is an alcoholic on her way to an AA meeting. She is approached by a man who won't leave her alone. As the story progresses, we find out he's been stalking her and is obsessed with her. He regales her with fanciful and fantastical stories of his life. But is he for real of is this just so much BS? It was an intriguing story that definitely kept me wondering what this stalker was really about.
Initially I was interested in reading this book because it had stories from Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Ross McDonald. Their stories for this collection were great. But I also found authors that were new to me that also provided great stories. And having read books from Walter Mosley, Margaret Millar and James Elroy, it was nice to stories from them in this collection.
Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics is a terrific title in the Akashic Books Noir series. It features various Los Angeles locales in sometimes complex, sometimes gritty stories to make for a fascinating collection of stories.
This title and others in the Noir series are available through amazon and other book retailers. You can also get a copy directly from Akashic Books.
To learn more about this book, others in the Noir series, or just about the publisher, Akashic Books, visit http://www.akashicbooks.com/
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© 2022 Bruce E Von Stiers