Noir The South Central Way

Bruce Von Stiers

Noir tales can be country specific, region specific and even city specific. Akashic Books has a whole noir series with that in mind. So far, I have reviewed a book of their noir tales that features locations in Denver and one closer to home, with noir tales based in Kansas City and one featuring classic L.A. based tales.

Now I have had the opportunity to read one more book in the noir series. This one also featured Los Angeles. But not the glitz and glamor or the tried-and-true classics of L.A. noir. This one gets down into the gritty part of L.A. that is South Central. As such, the title of the book is South Central Noir.

The book has fourteen stories and two hundred seventy-five pages. Each story is by a different author. Locations such as Slauson Park, Central Avenue and the Snooty Fox Motor Inn all play pivotal roles in the stories.

The book has an introduction by Gary Phillips in which he describes the imagery and tone of the stories to be found in the collection. Phillips also has his own noir tale near the end of the book.

The stories are broken down into three parts, the first titled Always and Forever. The first story in that part is titled All Luck. It has to do with an insurance payout for a burned-up business due to rioting. Sang-woo believes he will be getting a big payout. But will he? The story is a human drama with some built in grittiness. It was written by Steph Cha. She is the author of the best-selling Juniper Song mystery series.

How Hope Found Chauncey was by Jervey Tervalon. His works include the award-winning novel Understand This and Monster's Chef. The short story found here is about two sisters trying to get their baby brother away from their drug addicted mother. Not much nuance in this tale, but just downtrodden lives trying to move forward.

The Golden Coffin is a fairly long story. But it is a really good one. Some of it takes place in the legendary Dunbar Hotel. The reader meets the hero of the story, Theus, as he is being questioned at the police station. It seems he stumbled over a dead girl. But she is only one of a string of young women who had recently been murdered. The story has a bit of a lot of different things. There are crooked cops, crooked politicians and a young man growing old too fast. The story is from Emory Holmes II, a journalist and short story writer.

Jeri Westerson is the author of the medieval noir Crispin Guest book series. Her story for this collection is The Last Time I Died. Playing pranks on the janitor of an all-girls catholic school might not have the expected results. This is an interesting tale with a different ending that I had imagined.

Gar Anthony Haywood writes the Joe and Dottie Loudermilk mystery series. His story for this collection centers around the Watts Towers and two brothers, one with mind of a child and the other his caretaker. A financial loss and the potential of a squirreled away treasure creates a mystique for this story whose title is All That Glitters.

Part Two of the book is Cold Sweat. And the first story there is titled Collections. It's all about a guy nicknamed Ears and the who and how he collects bad debts for a crime lord. The story is smooth, yet gritty and comes from Eric Stone, the author of the Ray Sharp series.

Haint In The Window is from Tananarive Due. She is known for the novels The Good House and My Soul To Keep. This is sort of a ghost story, but with a noir twist. I wasn't sure where the story was taking me until the very end. It was a very interesting story.

I Am Yojimbo deals with the closing of Kokusai Theater on Crenshaw Avenue. But that's just a piece of the story. The main character in the story is Eric, who is enthralled with Japanese film and works at the theater. The story involves the Yakuza and a set of video tapes that somebody might just kill for to obtain. It was written by Naomi Hirahara, who the force behind the Mas Arari series.

Penny Mickelbury offers up Mae's Family Dining. In this story, Mae has a restaurant that is well known and frequented by a wide range of people. Those people include drag queens who work at a club nearby. The story moves between past and current events to provide a nice noir tale of supposed s novels.

I mentioned earlier that the editor for the book, Gary Phillips, has a story included. His is titled Death of a Sideman. The story surrounds a guy, Magrady, who is trying to find out who would have killed an old friend of his. The dead guy was a saxophone player and apparently didn't have any enemies. Or did he? The story highlights an early 90's gang truce, a betrayal, a murder and retribution. Besides editing anthologies such as this one, Phillips has written comics and novels along with many short stories.

The third part of the book is titled The World Is A Ghetto. Roberto Lovato wrote the first story in this part, titled Sabor A Mi. In this story, Rocky Anaya investigates a murder. But not everything, or everyone, fits into the narrative that Rocky anticipates. It is a good noir story from Lovato, who wrote the award-winning memoir, Unforgetting.

The next story has a rather long title. It is If Found Please Return To Abigail Serna 158 ¾ E MLK Blvd. It's about a teenage girl with a bad school life and a strained home life. The tale moves slowly towards a conclusion that I anticipated but still found disheartening. It was written by Desiree Zamorano, the author of The Amado Women.

When I saw the name Nikolas Charles as the author of one of the stories, I immediately thought of Nick Charles of The Thin Man. But the names are spelt differently and the Charles here is the writer of the tale, not the main character. His story is titled Where The Smoke Meets The Sky. The story surrounds Olin, a youth who had been locked up in Juvie. He gets out and the reader finds out that Olin wants to be a fireman. But that little tidbit is turned on it's head by the end of the story. It is a story whose end took a different path than I had imagined. It was a decent piece by Charles, who, in addition to writing fiction, has written articles for Rolling Stone and Playboy.

Larry Foundation is a community organizer for L.A.'s inner city. That's the area he also writes about in his stories. Foundation has the final story in this book. It is titled Jayson And The Liquor Store. It is about this guy named Jayson who brags about robbing a liquor store. Well, that's not really believed by the narrator of the story. Although this might be a crime story, at it's core the theme is really about moving out and moving up in life.

South Central Noir has a lot of great stories in it. I wasn't familiar with any of the authors, so that made it even better. You know, no preconceived ideas on the themes or writing styles of the authors. And I am definitely going to check out the other works of these authors. If you like noir stories this just might be a book that will peak your interest.

South Central Noir is available at Amazon, Bookshop or Barnes and Nobles. You can also get a copy through the Akashic Books web site. That site is https://www.akashicbooks.com/

 

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© 2022 Bruce E Von Stiers