Memphis Noir

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Memphis Noir

Memphis Noir
A collection of stories edited by Laureen P. Cantwell & Leonard Gill
Published by Akashic Books ©2015
This collection is comprised of works of fiction.

I requested this book from the publisher, and received an advanced readers copy in digital format.

Definition of “Noir” (one of many, but all very similar)
A genre of crime film or fiction characterized by tough cynical characters, fatalism, moral ambiguity, and bleak settings.

As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew it was not going to be a book filled with light fluffy stories of happiness – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t shine. From the Introduction to the very last page, I got a great sense of how culturally and socially diverse the city of Memphis is. Filled with interesting characters, each story is beautifully written, and I really enjoyed it.

From the Introduction, by Laureen P Cantwell & Leonard Gill (because they said it better than I ever could):
Somewhere between our blues and our kings, our fevers and our rock ’n’ roll, our history has transformed yours—our Piggly Wiggly began the self-serve grocery businesses; our FedEx changed the way you do business; our Holiday Inn brought you your Holiday Inn; and our music has been the soundtrack to your life. Its wild beat has rocked your world. And our struggle against our own darkness has kept us in the headlines. Memphis is marvels and misfits—two-faced and unabashedly so. And no, we are not Atlanta, or Chicago, or Nashville; we are not Austin or New York, Detroit or Los Angeles—and we shouldn’t try to be. We are Memphis, and this is our noir.

That introduction just set the tone for me; make sure you read then entire Introduction, it’s that good and it sets up this collection perfectly. There are 15 stories in all, and each one has its own flavor; one is even presented in graphic novel format – to my pleasant surprise. Some of the characters will break your heart, and others will aggravate you and make you think “what the hell are you doing…”, but overall, these characters feel very real.

I won’t go into each story, but I will highlight a couple that I really loved:

Heartbreak at Graceland by Kaye George – A card game gone bad, former lovers, and a dead body at Graceland. Yes, that Graceland. The story is told by Izzy, a waitress at the Li’l Darlin’ Diner who always wanted to see where Elvis died. Exactly where Elvis died, if you get my meaning. What’s not to love.

Through Valleys by Jamey Hatley – A woman who works in a library and the man who charms her; an insurance scam, corruption and a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.

The Never Never is Forever by Adam Shaw & Penny Register-Shaw – Presented as a graphic novel, this one broke my heart. About a guitar player and a chance meeting with a woman. I won’t say any more about this one, it was beautiful.

Chain of Custody by Lee Martin – Wrong place at the wrong time. This story is told by Cappy, a nice man who is taken advantage of by Laura, a not so nice woman. At the end of the story we find out something about Cappy that even Laura doesn’t know.

I could go on and on. Each one a gem.

Because this is a short story collection there is that disadvantage of not being able to spend a lot of time with the characters, but these stories are dark and gritty, and I think spending any more time with them would leave me feeling a bit sad. However, there is one character that I felt was missing, and that I was hoping to see more of, and that was the city of Memphis itself. It was a secondary character to these stories, and I really was hoping for some great descriptions of how the city feels, smells, and sounds. Memphis is, after all, a beautiful city known for its humidity, music and barbecue. Something for all of the senses!

All in all, I found Memphis Noir a wonderful selection of character studies, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves to read about characters that are not perfect, and even make you feel a little uncomfortable.

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