Saturday, May 13, 2006

D.C. Noir a fine introduction to unknown authors

45. D.C. Noir, edited by George Pelecanos. Short Stories, 5-12, p. 308

As a collector, I am inordinately fond of book series.

Because a series is a defined or limited set, it is easily collectible – which makes its appeal difficult to resist.

Series of recent interest include the Penguin Lives set of biographies and Times Books’ American Presidents. Past series of interest, which are more difficult to collect both because of availability and price, include the American Trail series and Rivers of America.

A new addition to my interest is the "Noir” series issued by Akashic Books. Conceived by Akashic publisher Johnny Temple, it debuted in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir and has since grown to include D.C. Noir, Baltimore Noir and Dublin Noir. Beyond its appeal simply because it’s a series, the “Noir” books are distinguished by vibrant writing.

Temple has astutely combined established writers like George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman and Jim Fusili with virtual unknowns. In the introduction to D.C. Noir, which he edited, Pelecanos writes, “It’s about the collective memories of the locals, and also about the voices. If you close your eyes and listen to the people of this city, you will hear the many different voices, and if you’ve lived here long enough, the cadences and rhythms, the familiarity of it, the feeling that you are home, will make you smile.

“This is a collection of short stories that, in the context of crime/noir fiction, attempts to capture those voices.”

Pelecanos, Fusili and Lippman do not disappoint. Their stories are the work of polished professionals. Lippman's story, in particular, is deliciously evil. But equally enjoyable -- impressively so -- are stories by Robert Andrews (Solomon’s Alley) and Richard Currey (Names of the Lost), to name only two.

The stories are not uniformly great, but it is a rare short story collection that achieves such uniformity. The majority of the stories in D.C. Noir are well worth reading. On more than one occasion a story sent me flipping to the back of the book to read the author’s bio to see what else they had written.

Temple and Akashic are to be applauded for introducing readers to a host of new or unknown writers. Dublin Noir, Baltimore Noir and Manhattan Noir are all on my shortlist. I look forward to reading each book and to collecting the entire series with great anticipation.

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