This thing has been on the Kindle for a few years, which shows the mad build-up of stuff I’ve stored on there, but this was worth the wait.
It kicks off with Owen Laukkanen’s N.F.G., an excellent slice of fishing boat noir, where the story revolves around the careless owner’s son and an old hand, Earl, whose full of stories nobody but the narrator listens to. Crammed around a tiny table in the ship’s galley in their quieter moments, tension arises from the son’s attitude and builds to a Biblical climax. Excellent rise in tension amidst the pressure of hauls, the wild sea, and dive-bombing seagulls. A great way to start the anthology.
They’re all very good noir tales, and one of the standouts is CS DeWildt’s Decomposition is the Universe Forgetting Itself. This bit of madness starts with Tommy Skaggs stealing money from a neighbouring trailer, and you’re already against him with the way he talks to the young girl he finds alone in there. He walks out with the money and an uneasy feeling in the reader’s stomach, and it gets worse when he robs the store and kills the cashier. You think the rest would be about his escape, but when he jumps over the wall into the trees which neighbour the backyard of a demented old woman, the story slides into a weirdness that’ll make you gag all the way to the end. It’s brilliant.
Eric Beetner’s Ice Cold Alibi is Hitchcock stirred into Sweeney Todd, with a protagonist you’ll love to hate, a tale of strong women and useless men. Top stuff.
Liam Sweeny’s God’s Country is a sweaty drug-runner tale that’ll hurt your stomach as you read it, and Scott Adlerberg’s The Gulf is a Belize set beauty stitching racial snipes and gender fears together in a complex tale. A white woman from Vermont travels with her black Brooklyn boyfriend to a so-called independent Belize where British troops still patrol – Adlerberg weaves in colonialism, white-woman-with-black-man anxieties, black-man-with-white-woman anxieties, male-female power imbalances, male pride, and female anger at having to deal with men’s obsession with her body so she can’t just be. Throw in an unwanted pregnancy and you have enough here for a novel, but Adlerberg, without an ounce of preachiness, makes an impactful noir tale out of it all in a short space. This one had me waking up thinking about it the next morning more than the others, but it’s a cherry on top of an excellent cake all round.