What a terrific anthology - kudo's to editor/author Duane Swierczynski for compiling this collection of short stories that define noir - hardboiled gems written with cracked asphalt and broken beer bottles; brown paper bags with cold cash or cheap whiskey or untraceable .38s. I found many of my favorite authors here - Bruen, Burton, Cotterill, Stella, Brewer, Gischler, Doolittle, and of course Swierczynski, but also some vets and new faces I haven't discovered, but will be reading soon.
While it's hard to award medals in such a rarefied crowd, Ken Bruen's typically dark, bleak and depressing "Old Gun" will fray the edges of your conscious for weeks to come. Milton T. Burton's honey-smooth prose flows easily from a master story teller in "Encore", in neat contrast to Bruen's lean and jagged writing, even though both carry unshakable images of despair without redemption. Victor Gischler's "Duffers of the Apocalypse" is black humor as clever as it is dark, and Robert Ward's macabre "The Deadsters" could as easily show up in a collection of top notch horror. Colin Cotterill's wily Laotian Dr. Siri Paiboun, protagonist of four outstanding Cotterill novels, makes an appearance in author's typically light, well crafted "Has Anyone Seen Mrs. Lightswitch", and Charlie Stella hones his Brooklyn street smart chops with "Geezer Tricks", a story of the phone sex industry as moving as it is cynically funny. And while most noir crime fiction is about tough guys, Swierczynski's mix is liberally and effectively laced with savvy and calculating old broads - notably Laura Lipman's "Femme Fatale", "Policy" by Megan Abbot, Stuart MacBride's "Daphne McAndrews and the Smack-Head Junkies", and the Hitchcockian "Pros and Cons" by Donna Moore. Being noir, irony takes center stage, and none do it better than Swierczynski's own "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy", the venerable Bill Crider's "Cranked", Steve Brewer's "Payoff", and Sean Doolittle's "The Necklace", a crafty and well told tale of age and wisdom trumping youth an inexperience which, if pressed, may be the best of this elite bunch.
So take it from a bona fide geezer - this is crime fiction in it's finest form - an unbeatable bargain of over two-dozen hard hitting dramas of crime, passion, and poignancy from a gang that may be damn near dead, but are certainly far from over the hill.