Top positive review
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Entertaining mix of crime, detective and spiritual stories
on 7 January 2013
Although the title and the opening essay in this book talk about the bleakly deep meaning of pure 'noir' fiction (in which there is no escape from the ultimate awfulness of everything: no happy ending, no light at the end of the tunnel), few of the short stories in this interesting collection are actually noir. Most are straightforward mystery tales set against the background of modern Bangkok - and I enjoyed the majority of them very much.
All of the authors are familiar with Thailand, and all the stories are imbued with an atmosphere of eastern culture and exoticism, which can turn from intriguing to threatening at the tip of a hat. I've read some city-themed noir collections where the writers are fairly lazy about the significance of the actual place and its people - those generic stories could almost have been placed anywhere. Not so with 'Bangkok Noir', which captures a pleasingly authentic far eastern ambience.
Some of the stories have almost no mystery at all, and a straightforward morality tales (like the opening Gone East by John Burdett). Meanwhile, Stephen Leather's regular detective, Inspector Zhang, has to solve a tradition locked room mystery, worthy of Holmes or Poirot, in a jumbo jet. Halfhead, by Colin Cotterill, combines the supernatural and spiritual worlds with a genuine noir ending, while Hansum Man by Timothy Hallinan explores the worst that can happen when you seek your lost love on forgotten backstreet. Perhaps the only story in this collection which I didn't really enjoy was the final one in the book, which is a very straightforward narrative, soaked in description but lacking a compelling plot.
Overall, then, a thoroughly enjoyable compilation of entertaining and thought-provoking short stories.