DC Noir

Edited by George Pelecanos

Book Cover: DC NoirI’d checked this book out way back in Boulder, when we were first thinking of moving to DC because I thought it would be a fun introduction, but then I got busy with all the moving stuff. However, now I’m feeling pretty DC noir myself, so I figured I’d give it another go.

This is part of a whole series of [City] Noir books, so if noir mystery is your thing, you might want to check whether the Akashic Noir series includes your city (there is an incredibly wide range of cities, and not just confined to the US, either).

I’ve complained before about authors not getting “noir” quite right, thinking you can just slap on a bunch of the more obvious earmarks, but reading these stories helped me refine my thoughts on it. Too many people think that noir is about how horrible people can be to each other, but in really good, nuanced noir, it is about how decent people struggle to stay that way in a general horrible world. So, while there are very often horrible people in noir, they are usually side characters and may well also be originally decent people who have failed in their own struggle. Of course, making a whole universe that is generally grim and destructive is a lot more difficult than just throwing some unexpected murderers in there, and that’s why noir is a true art form.

Some of the stories here got it and some didn’t; while I would say that the ones that missed the mark outweighed the one that just got the true noir feeling, those with the right feeling were awfully good (though depressing, of course).

The stories were set in a wide range of different neighborhoods, and while there’s a few set in wealthy neighborhoods, most are set in the poorer ones. (And, as a sort of funny aside, I’m currently apartment hunting once again, and thought I’d found a very reasonably priced townhouse until the neighborhood it was in showed up in one of the stories here. When I texted Kinsey, just to confirm my suspicions about the neighborhood, she just texted back “NO.”)

Anyway, the stories also spanned different time periods, which threw me off sometimes – a lot of them, of course, wanted to focus on DC’s most crime-ridden times, and some of them were sort of indeterminate. One of the stories began with riots caused by a black cop shooting a handcuffed Hispanic suspect, and except for the respective races, that seemed very current. My favorite story featured one of the more radical black power movements taking on the mob in the 60s.

Only one of the authors in the collection is female, and only two of the stories had a female narrator, which was a bit of a disappointment. There is a DC Noir 2, though I think I may instead want to check out some of the other cities, possibly Dublin Noir, since that sounds pretty interesting.

—Anna

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