Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Forget it Jake, It's Koreatown.

Of the various mythical versions of LA out there, my favorite would have to be Noir Angeles. I don't know if it's the suits, the architecture, the snappy patter, the combination of glamour and seediness or what, but I'm a sucker for anything set in the first half of 20th century Los Angeles. If it features morally ambiguous protagonists cast adrift in a sea of bad choices of their own making, better still. If somebody wakes up in a Mid-City flophouse with an armful of junk put there by a loved one who needed them out of the way and out of an alibi? Gravy.

Happily, Akashic Books' Los Angeles Noir brings the bleak in spades, in stories that take full advantage of the staggering sprawl of the Southland to work out traditional noir themes in new settings. As Denise Hamilton - editor and contributer of a nasty little tale of marital double-crossing in San Marino - puts it in her introduction to the book: "L.A.'s just a noir place."

Better still, in the stories of Los Angeles Noir it's a bunch of noir places; the authors in this volume are all over the map, from Mullholland Drive (in one of my favorite stories in the book) to East LA, with side trips to Commerce, the Valley, and the Belmont Shore. It expands the fictional geography of Noir Angeles in a way that's been done on film and television but less often in print, and for that alone it's worth picking up.

Not every story in the volume hits the mark but those that do hit it right in the small of the back. (Gary Phillips' "Roger Crumbler Considered His Shave" knocked my socks off and stole my shoes.) And LA residents will likely get a morbid kick out of seeing bodies pile up in familiar places, especially since they'll probably all be torn down and replaced with condos in fifteen years.**

All in all, Los Angeles Noir is a long overdue and worthy entry into the noir canon. And it's chock full of local writers, to boot! Everybody wins (except the characters).

The birthplace of noir is all growed up, and it grew up mean.

* Neal Pollack's writing style, for instance, doesn't gel so well with the overall tone of the collection, aiming for hardboiled homage but coming up poached. (This may just be my current frustration with McSweeny's Entirely Too Precious And Ironic Internet Concern rearing its cranky head, I suppose.) And I'm not sure that Hector Tobar's otherwise excellent "Once More, Lazarus" really fits the bill as Noir Proper (tm), but these are minor quibbles.
** I must confess to cackling with joy when the HMS Bounty, the official watering hole of TBIFY, made an appearance.


Larry said...

Here's to the Jack Webb booth!

mary_m said...

To Jack!

I also read this book and was jealous that Brady got dibs on the post, but I wanted to mention a couple of other stories I particularly liked.

First, there's Janet Fitch's "The Method," a story about an aspiring starlet who falls in with a seedy guy and an aging actressed locked away in a Los Feliz bungalow. At first, I thought, "Janet Fitch? Noir?" But then I remembered Paint It Black, and how good she is at making her characters rot from the inside out.

Second, there's Brian Ascalon Roley's "Kinship," a story about a reformed gangbanger out to settle a score, with a twist. Not straight up noir, but a good tale.

And the Gary Phillips's story would be my favorite even if it wasn't set in our neighborhood. He's the best.

Daniel Olivas said...

Great anthology! My review of it is posted today on The Elegant Variation: