New Orleans Noir, A Review

by Nola

I’ve just finished reading “New Orleans Noir.” It’s a collection of short stories set in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, post-Katrina and even in between. I tend not to like short stories; I prefer long, epic tales with lots of character development. Notwithstanding, I am addicted to all books NOLA-related and had to give this one a fair shake.

As the name states, this book is dark. Many of the contributing authors write mystery or crime novels; many of the stories involve crimes and the NOPD.

It is a beautiful night. Despite this shit here. Sweet and soft, balmy. Dark. I know that sounds odd to say. The night is dark. But it is. Here in New Orleans, it is really dark. One or two things I know about New Orleans. The nights are darker here. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I’m not talking about human darkness. About evil, or shit.  I’m talking about the quality of the night. The feel. I been everywhere, all over this country. The Gulf of Mexico. Jamaica. I’m telling you. I seen a lot of darkness, stayed up a lot of nights. It’s just a fact. The nights are darker here.  Palpably darker. And thicker. You can reach out and stroke the darkness. Touch it. Run your hand over it, like somebody’s skin, or a piece of soft cloth. Got a soft feel to it, New Orleans nights. The nights are always softer here. No matter what else has happened. No matter what kind of horror show. The nights are always soft. I can’t tell you how many times, how many blood-soaked crime scenes I been privy to, how many murders. I just stepped away, stepped outside, into the night, and been struck by how thick and soft and sweet and downright dark the nights are here. Struck dumb. It’s a mystery.

Eric Overmyer’s Marigny Triangle.

There were stories that did nothing for me. I read them, and I immediately forgot them. And I am grateful that such stories were, in fact, short.

There were stories I devoured and wished wouldn’t have ended so quickly. One that sucked me in and left me wanting more was Laura Lippman’s Pony Girl.

Back to the girl. Everybody’s eyes kept going back to that girl. She was long and slinky, in a champagne-colored body stocking. And if it had been just the body stocking, if she had decided to be Eve to some boy’s Adam, glued a few leaves to the right parts, she wouldn’t have been so . . . disturbing. Funny how that goes, how pretending to be naked can be less inflaming than dressing up like something that’s not supposed to be sexy at all. No, this one, she had a pair of pointy ears high in her blond hair, which was pulled back in a ponytail. She had pale white-and-beige cowboy boots, the daintiest things you ever seen, and — this was what made me fear for her — a real tail of horsehair pinned to the end of her spine, swishing back and forth as she danced.  Swish. Swish. Swish. And although she was skinny by my standards, she managed the trick of being skinny with curves, so that tail jutted out just so. Swish. Swish. Swish. I watched her, and I watched all the other men watching her, and I did not see how anyone could keep her safe if she stayed here, dancing into the night.

Another that charmed me was James Nolan’s Open Mike, appealing to the Raymond Chandler fan in me:

I made it to the Dragon’s Den on a sticky Tuesday evening, with a woolly sky trapping humidity inside the city like a soggy blanket. It had been trying to rain for two weeks. The air was always just about to clear up but never did, as if old Mother Nature were working on her orgasm. I carried an umbrella, expecting a downpour. The place was right next to the river, and hadn’t seen a drop of paint since I last walked in the door thirty years ago, with all my hair and a young man’s cocky swagger. A whistle was moaning as a freight train clacked along the nearby tracks, and the huge live oak out front shrouded the crumbling façade in a tangle of shadows. An old rickshaw was parked outside, where an elfin creature with orange hair sat scribbling in a notebook. He shot me a look through thick black plastic glasses, and then went back to writing.

There were many that spoke of revenge and redemption; that defined loss and sorrow:

Here it was, two weeks after the funeral, and only now had Rita finally been able to summon the strength to clean out Sammy’s closet.

When she pulled the closet door open, Sammy’s scent assaulted her. She buckled at the knees and had to grab the door frame with one hand and push hard against the knob with the other just to keep from falling. It was like Sammy was hiding in the closet and had come charging out when she opened it.

Kalumu Ya Salaam’s All I Could Do Was Cry.

And others that addressed the resiliency of New Orleanians, such as Maureen Tan’s Muddy Pond:

Another helicopter flew overhead, its clatter magnified as the sound bounced off the swamped houses below. It was on its way, Sonny was certain, to pluck unfortunates from their rooftops. To rescue people whose lives were endangered. But because that did not describe Sonny’s situation, it didn’t occur to him to signal for help. He didn’t need rescuing. As others had evacuated, he’d prepared. He had food and water, the company of his cats, a battery-powered radio, and a dry attic. No matter if it took a week or two or even three, Sonny knew that eventually the water would recede. Then his neighbors would return.

Then there were others that glared the light on all too true facts about the city:

Chad worked as a waiter in a Quarter restaurant, and from all appearances, never seemed to have any friends. Who would miss him? He wouldn’t show up for work, they’d write him off — people tend to come and go quickly in New Orleans, especially now — and that would be the end of it. Unless a family member missed him, filed a missing-persons report, and really pressed the cops — which wouldn’t do much good, unless his family was wealthy and powerful.

You have to hate New Orleans sometimes.

Greg Herren’s Annunciation Shotgun.

In all, there are eighteen short stories; ten set pre-Katrina and the others touching on the storm in one way or another.  In each story, New Orleans is as much a character as any of her denizens created in these stories. All of the stories are dark. But, like it or not, they all have components of truth in them of what New Orleans is about and who her people are. The truth isn’t always pretty. But this group of collaborators sure makes it worthwhile to learn just a little bit more about the dark underbelly that can be New Orleans.

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