I imagine a pie chart measuring public opinion of New Orleans to be mostly two large slices labeled “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Den of Sin.” Alongside San Francisco and Las Vegas, few American cities are simultaneously beloved and loathed by so many, which makes New Orleans a particularly promising and logical addition to Akashic’s noir series.
As opposed to the annual O. Henry Prize Stories anthology or the seemingly ubiquitous The Best American Short Stories collections, Akashic’s noir anthologies give more than a snapshot of the year in fiction. Instead, the series gives various fiction writers the opportunity to explore one particular place in any number of ways. Still, this is not New Orleans Fiction or New Orleans Tales, it’s New Orleans Noir. And what American city is currently more politically troubled, sexually intriguing, geographically dubious and, well, mysterious than the Big Easy?
As with any collection, New Orleans Noir has its standouts and its weaker links, pieces that might not engage a reader, or that let you down at the last page (it’s the rare tale that can leave you feeling quite as shafted as an unfulfilling mystery). Thankfully, there’s no outright dud in this collection, while there are several astonishingly good stories. Highlights include: “Two-Story Brick Houses,” the tale of an adolescent girl’s attempted ascendancy to the social circle of her rich peers by Patty Friedmann; “Loot,” an expert examination of the madness and looting following Katrina by editor Julie Smith; and “Pony Girl,” Laura Lippman’s short, surprising and violent tale of attempted rape (one of the strongest and darkest pieces in the book). Other stories in the collection seem not to capitalize on some truly great elements. James Nolan’s “Open Mike” gives us a troubled homicide detective who moonlights as a private eye, a dead poet/stripper, and some excellent dialogue that evokes Bogart’s wounded nonchalance, but the story never really gels. Overall, though, this is a strong and extremely entertaining collection that leaves you satisfied in a straight-up-Jameson, unfiltered-cigarette, pretty-gal-on-the-arm kind of way.