New Orleans Noir The Classics – edited by Julie Smith

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“A hurricane is supposed to have a beginning and an end. It tears the earth up, fills the air with fling trees and bricks and animals and sometimes even people, make you roll up into a ball under a table and pray till drops of blood pop on your brow, then it goes away and lets you clean up after it, like somebody pulled a big prank on the whole town. But this one didn’t work that way. It’s killing in stages.” (from “Jesus Out to Sea” by James Lee Burke – originally published in 2006)

This is one of eighteen  diverse stories that capture the feeling of this fascinating city. New Orleans Noir – The Classics embraces the city’s rich literature and spans two centuries, from the pre-civil war era to post – Katrina. Each story is placed in order of publication date.

The anthology begins powerfully with “A Marriage of Conscience” originally published in 1843 by Armand Lanusse, a free man of color who wrote about the emotional tragedy of a common New Orleans custom of the era.

Another favorite of mine is the 1948 Tennessee Williams’ “Desire and the Black Masseur” a sordid tale of a white masochistic businessmen who shared a destructive desire with many other men.

From the unethical divorce attorney in the 1976 “Pleadings” by John William Corrington to Tom Dent’s heartbreaking 1978 screenplay “Ritual Murder”, many of these stories will hit you hard. The last story,  the tragic 2012 “Pie Man”, centers on the all-to-common state of a fourteen year old boy who already has a criminal record and whose future is set.

It took me awhile to get into the 1995 “Mussolini and the Axeman’s Jazz”, but I’m so glad that I kept at Poppy Z. Brite’s fantastical take on World War I and NOLA. It also became one of my favorites. However, there are a few stories that left me lukewarm.

New Orleans Noir – The Classics is the latest from the Akashic Books Noir Series. Though I must say that I enjoyed Memphis Noir more, I would still recommend this book. In fact I want to read New Orleans Noir published in 2007, with eighteen different stories.
I also must admit that I have purchased a few books in the Noir series that I hope are as riveting as these two.

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