Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Books: The Latest Installments In The Akashic 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.

The newest installments in this compelling series are Columbus Noir, edited by Andrew Welsh-Huggins; Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore; and Nairobi Noir, edited by Peter Kimani.

Columbus Noir
Edited by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Akashic Books, based in Brooklyn, NY; 288 pages; paperback, $15.95; E-book, $15.99

Andrew Welsh-Huggins is an editor and reporter for the Associated Press in Columbus, and is the author of nonfiction books on the death penalty and terrorism, and six novels about private eye Andy Hayes, an ex-Ohio State and Cleveland Browns quarterback turned investigator. His short story, "The Murderous Type," won the 2017 Al Blanchard Award for best New England short crime fiction.

Welsh-Huggins is the Editor of Columbus Noir, a series of brand-new stories, set in Ohio's capitol, by Lee Martin, Robin Yocum, Krisen Lepionka, Craig McDonald, Chris Bournea, Tom Barlow, Mercedes King, Daniel Best, Laura Bickie, Yolanda Tonette Sanders, Julia Keller, Khalid Moalim, and Nancy Zafris.

"Today, Columbus is an epicenter of the opioid epidemic, awash in heroin and the even deadlier fentanyl as dealers flood the city with their wares," Welsh-Huggins writes in the introduction. "The wealth gap in the city is growing, and Columbus is now one of the deadliest places in the state for babies trying to make it to their first birthday, even more so if their mothers are African American. These days, Columbus is a place forensic investigators are moving to. Overdoses, homicides, infant mortality: at long last, we're finally as lethal as any big American city.

"In that light (and darkness) I'm pleased to present Columbus Noir, a collection of shadowy tales from the city's best storytellers set in neighborhoods across the metropolis. Sexual passion drives many of the stories, appropriate for a genre marked by protagonists striving for things out of their reach. Racism makes an appearance or two, as do those twin pillars of noir, greed and pride. Still, a deep appreciation of Columbus runs through the book as forcefully as the swath cut by the Olentangy after a couple of days of hard rain...

"Opioids feature prominently in the stories, beginning with Robin Yocum's yarn of police corruption and desire, 'The Satin Fox,' set in Victorian Village, and which opens the first section, 'Sin in CBus.' The dark side of the city's booming housing market takes center stage in two stories set in very different neighborhoods, Kristen Lepionka's 'Gun People.' about home renovation gone awry in always-up-and-coming Olde Towne East, and Craig McDonald's 'Curb Appeal,' which explores the real estate gold rush in German Village. Finally, a city police detective struggles with a painful past in Chris Bournea's Eastmoor-set story, 'My name is not Susan.'

"Starting off the section titled 'Capitol Offenses,' I draw on my reporting days covering shenanigans at the Ohio Statehouse for a glimpse into the darkest secrets of someone sworn to protect and serve in 'Going Places.'"

Santa Fe Noir
Edited by Ariel Gore
Akashic Books, based in Brooklyn, NY; 288 pages; paperback, $15.95; E-book, $15.99

Ariel Gore is a Lambda Literary and Alternative Press award-winning editor and the author of eleven books, including The Hip Mama Survival Guide; Atlas of the Human Heart, which was a finalist of the Oregon Book Award; and Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness. Her memoir The End of Eve and her novel We Were Witches both won New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. Her spell collection, Hexing the Patriarchy, is out now from Seal Press.

Santa Fe is the second Southwest United States city that the Akashic Noir Series has visited, after Phoenix. There are brand-new stories by Ana Castillo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Byron F. Aspaas, Barbara Robidoux, Elizabeth Lee, Ana June, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Ariel Gore, Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, Candace Walsh, Hida Viloria, Cornelia Read, Mirian Sagan, James Reich, Kevin Atkinson, Katie Johnson, and Tomas Moniz.

"A city older than the United States, founded long before any pilgrims ever washed up at Plymouth Rock, Santa Fe has its secrets - its revolts and its hangings, its witch trials and its hauntings, its Indian school of forced assimilation and its Japanese internment camp," Gore writes in the introduction.

"The stories in this collection reflect a fundamental truth about this city: history depends on who's telling it. Too often the story of Santa Fe has been told only by the conquerors and the tourism PR firms. In Santa Fe Noir, you will hear the voices of the others: locals and Native people, unemployed veterans and queer transplants, the homeless and the paroled-to-here. When I asked the contributors you'll read in these pages if they had a Santa Fe story to tell, they invariably shrugged and said something to the effect of, 'Oh, I've got a story all right. But it might not fit the image of Santa Fe you're looking for.'

"I said, 'Try me.' They came back with the stories that never make the glossy tour brochures: the working class and the underground, the decolonized and the ever-haunted; the Santa Fe only we know. Like crows, the stories in this volume begin by circling the city - Eldorado, Aspen Vista, Los Alamos. And then we come in for the kill.

"Conquered and reconquered, colonized and commodified, Santa Fe understands - from historical genocide to the murders of family members - the intimacy of violence.

"Even the city's breathtaking beauty is a femme fatale: droughts come like stalkers. At night, temperatures can drop fast and deadly.

"For some, it's a transient place: Your peyote trip ends here, or your last espionage assignment. You were an anchor baby born in a sanctuary city, or your car broke down near the Saint Francis exit. Your ancestral land was sold our from under you, or you followed your dying mother.

"You're broke now. You just hope your bad luck has saved you from worse. You're a noir story embodied."

Nairobi Noir
Edited by Peter Kimani
Akashic Books; 256 pages; paperback, $15.95; E-book, $15.99

Peter Kimani is a leading Kenyan journalist and the author, most recently, of Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The novel was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the United States and long-listed for the inaugural Big Book Awards in the United Kingdom. He has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston and is presently based at Aga Kahn University's Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairboi.

Nairobi Noir is the first installment in the Akashic Noir Series set in East Africa, and it features brand-new stories from Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Stanley Gazemba, Ngumi Kibera, Peter Kimani, Winfred Kiunga, Kinyuanjui Kombani, Caroline Mose, Kevin Mwachiro, Wanjiku wa Ngugi, Faith Oneya, Makena Onjerika, Troy Onyango, J.E. Sibi-Okumu, and Rasna Warah.

"Nairobi Noir is an excavation, rediscovering the city's ossified past and infusing life to preserve it for future generations,"  Peter Kimani writes in the introduction. It is also an act of celebration, reminding readers of the brilliance of the best-known writers to emerge from this part of the world, and heralding the birth of new writers whose gifts, we can safely predict, will shine brightly in the years ahead.

"The oldest writer in this anthology is eighty-one, the youngest is only twenty-four; if there is any inference one can draw from this demographic it is that this anthology offers an entire spectrum of Kenyan writing: the past, present, and future. If we can allow one extravagant claim, a collection of this nature is unprecedented in Kenyan literary history.

"Although the range of issues explored in Nairbobi Noir is as diverse as its contributors, it all gestures toward a common theme. In this concrete jungle, the hunters and herders live on. As do the hunted..."

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