Book Review: Kansas City Noir, edited by Steve Paul

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For a few years now, I’ve meant to read one of the books from Akashic’s city-based Noir series. And for no good reason, I didn’t get around to one until Kansas City Noir, edited by Steve Paul. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Kansas City; if I have, it was a mere drive-through during one of the cross-country trips we took when I was a kid. Because of that, I wonder if I would have connected to the stories more if I was already familiar with the locale.

Kansas City Noir (cover)Yes, I know of its barbecue, booze, and blues heritage, but apart from that, I don’t know the significance of locations like The Paseo or Milton’s Tap Room. Saying all this up front, I only mean that your results may vary, and that I’d have to read other cities’ collections to know if my disconnect is identification-based or writing-based.

As it stands, Kansas City Noir is a decent collection of dark short stories. There’s a lot of unrepentant murderin’, which I find interesting, as well as some of more unusual plot points that I enjoyed.

One of my favorite stories was Mitch Brian’s “Last Night at The Rialto,” about a single screen theater’s projectionist closing up on the last night of business.

Closing night after the last show, I want you to pull all the prints into your truck and bring ‘em over to my place,” he told Rance. He’d just dropped the bomb on Rance that he was selling the place and he said it almost like an afterthought. He’d given no warning. Hadn’t even hinted he was looking for a buyer. After all, Rance was just the projectionist. Marty probably figured he’d find another job easily enough. Or maybe just do something else. Everything was going digital anyway. Projectionists, he’d joked, were a dying breed. It may have been funny to Marty, but not to Rance. It was the truth. Rance was dying. He’d kept that from Marty. [“¦] Marty didn’t know Rance had nothing to lose. Marty didn’t know how dangerous Rance was about to become. These prints were not going to Rance’s truck.

I liked the shadowy, solitary planning of it all. If the boss has taken away the last thing he has left, then the boss will surely not profit from it.

Another highlight was “The Softest Crime” by Matthew Eck, a tale about the children of two serial killers who meet at a conference for people affected by violent crimes. They develop a hit-and-miss relationship mainly about sleeping with each other, but the man develops stronger feelings for her.

“I always liked you,” I said.

“You liked the idea of me. You liked that there was someone just as fucked up as you.

“That’s not true,” I said.

“Don’t be angry.” She covered my eyes with her hand again and kissed me. She sighed against my lips.

“What if it was love?” I asked.

“You’re not in love with me,” she said. “You’re just in love with the idea of me.”

I rolled away from her but she climbed on top of me. She kissed me and her hair made a tent around our faces.

There’s no murder, no mystery – just two sad, lonely people who came together one last time in the middle of winter.

I also liked “The Pendergast Musket” by Phong Nguyen, “Lightbulb” by Nancy Pickard, and the delightfully weird “Thelma and Laverne” by John Lutz. “Yesterdays” by Andrés Rodríguez was also good.

Some of the stories, like Nadia Pflaum’s “Charlie Price’s Last Summer,” were fine enough, but the endings felt too inevitable. Sometimes seeing where the story is headed can be entertaining, and other times, I think, Oh, just get on with it already.

I guess I expected to like this book more than I did. There was not nearly enough Wow for me. Half the time, I finished the stories with a bit of a shrug. Great, you murdered your husband. Congratulations, I guess. Oh, and you’d like to be murdered? Okay, well, I’m sure someone will help you out with that, then. Moving on.

Like I said, the book has definite highlights, but not enough of them. Perhaps I’d feel more fondly towards some of the so-so stories if I had a nostalgic connection to their setting. I don’t know, but I’m still curious about several other Noir collections. And if Akashic ever wants to do a minimally-cowboy Montana-themed book for the series, well, they know where to find me.

Full Disclosure: Akashic Books sent me this. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews. This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the editor of Electric City Creative.
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Sara HabeinBook Review: Kansas City Noir, edited by Steve Paul

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