Saturday, September 14, 2019

Books: New Installments Of Akashic Books Noir Series

When Brooklyn-based publisher Akashic Books published Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin, in 2004, they did not expect that it would be the start of a series.

McLoughlin's concept was to identify local authors who knew Brooklyn's neighborhoods even better than he did, to ask them to write original stories, and as its editor to celebrate his beloved and diverse home.

As it turned out, it was the perfect model for a series, and Akashic used it to identify editors throughout the country and the world who hold their cities as close to the heart as McLoughlin holds Brooklyn.

There are now over 90 volumes in the Noir Series offering sinister literary tours to national and international cities. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city.

It has been recognized with nominations and awards throughout the mystery and literary world, from the Shamus, Derringer, macavity, and Anthony Awards to the Pushcart Prize. Two stories published in the series have won the Edgar for Best Short Story, and in 2013, Akashic founder and publisher Johnny Temple was awarded the Ellen Queen Award, a monumental achievement.

We will take a look at four of the latest installments of the Noir Series: Berlin Noir, edited by Thomas Wortche; Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda; and Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy.

Berlin Noir
Edited By Thomas Wortche
Akashic Books; paperback, $15.95; e-book, $15.99

Berlin's noir tradition has been fueled by history, geography, and various literary traditions, making this a powerful volume of riveting short stories.
There are brand-new works of noir from Zoe Beck, Ulrich Woelk, Susanne Saygin, Robert Rescue, Johannes Groschupf, Ute Cohen, Katja Bohnet, Matthias Wittekindt, Kai Hensel, Miron Zownir, Max Annas, Michael Wuliger, and Rob Alef. They are translated from the German by Lucy Jones.
Editor Thomas Wortche, born in 1954, is a literary scholar, critic, and was director of several crime fiction publishing imprints. He is currently responsible for a crime line with Suhrkamp Verlag, and lives in Berlin.
Wortche wrote in this introduction: "Berlin does not make it easy to write noir fiction - or perhaps Berlin makes it too easy. Noir tradition casts a long, influential, and even daunting shadow. Alfred Doblin's and Christopher Isherwood's works, some of Bertolt Brecht's plays, the Morgue poems by Gottfried Benn, M by Fritz Lang, and many other narratives from the first third of the twentieth century, all of which are tinged with noir, set high intellectual standards, and literary and aesthetic benchmarks that are hard to surpass...
"Neither Doblin nor Benn, Brecht nor Lang, catered to any crime fiction formats. They merely steeped their literary projects in a great deal of noir. And so it is with most of the stories in our anthology: they do not necessarily follow the usual patterns of crime fiction, but regard noir as a license to write as they wish, a certain way of approaching the city, and a prism through which its nature is viewed...What's left is history. It is omnipresent in Berlin at every turn; the city is saturated in a history full of blood, violence, and death."

Houston Noir
Edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda
Akashic Books; paperback, $15.95; e-book, $15.99

The fourth-largest city in the United States is long overdue to enter the Noir Series arena, and it does so brazenly. 
This volume features brand-new stories from Tom Abrahams, Robert Boswell, Sarah Cortez, Anton DiSclafani, Stephanie Jane Evans, Wanjiku Wa Ngugi, Adrienne Perry, Pia Pico, Reyes Ramirez, Icess  Fernandez Rojas, Sehba Sarwar, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Larry Watts, and Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton.
Editor Gwendolyn Zepeda has published three novels, one short story collection, two poetry collections, and five children's books. She served as Houston's first poet laureate from 2013 to 2015.
Zepeda writes in her introducion, "In a 2004 essay, Hunter S. Thompson described Houston as a 'cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It's a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West - which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.' For what it's worth, that quote is now posted on a banner somewhere downtown and regularly, gleefully repeated by our local feature writers.
"Houston is a port city on top of a swamp and, yes, it has no zoning laws. And that means it's culturally diverse, internally incongruous, and ever-changing. At any intersection here, I might look out my car window and see a horse idly munching St. Augustine grass. And, within spitting distance of that horse, I might see a 'spa' that's an obvious brothel, a house turned drug den, or a swiftly rising bayou that might overtake a car if the rain doesn't let up...Overall, the collection represents the very worst our city has to offer, for residents and visitors alike. But it also presents some of our best voices, veteran and emerging, to any reader lucky enough to pick up this book."

Milwaukee Noir
Edited by Tim Hennessy
Akashic Books; paperback, $15.95; e-book, $15.99

This city of manufacturers and booze, as well as a burgeoning immigrant community, makes perfect grist for the Noir Series mill.
There are brand-new stories by Jane Hamilton, Reed Farrel Coleman, Valerie Laken, Matthew J. Prigge, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Vida Cross, Larry Watson, Frank Wheeler Jr., Derrick Harriell, Christi Clancy, James E. Causey, Mary Thorson, Nick Petrie, and Jennifer Morales.
Editor Tim Hennessy is a bookseller and writer who lives in Milwaukee with his wife and son. His work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Tough, Crimespree Magazine, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, among many other places.
Hennessy wrote in his introduction, "Presntly, Milwaukee is going through a renaissance - abandoned factories being converted to condos, craft breweries and distilleries pushing out corner taverns - yet at the same time it is among the most segregated and impoverished big cities in the country. The gentrification of neighborhoods outside of downtown bear the impact of twentieth-century redlining efforts, forcing residents out due to housing demand, adding fuel to the affordable-housing crisis. Such an environment and atmosphere make excellent fodder for noir fiction...
"The book you're holding is the first of its kind - a short fiction collection about Milwaukee, by writers who've experienced life here. The crime/noir genre at its best can be one of the purest forms of social commentary. I've gathered contributors who can tell not just a fine story, but who can write  about the struggles and resilience of the people who live here...I'm honored to compile a body of work that represents what I love, and fear, about Milwaukee. I love my city's lack of pretension; its stubborness and pride in the unpolished corners. I fear that my city faces an uncertain future - that as it becomes more divided it may push our best and brightest to find somewhere else to shine."

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