Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: Portland Noir



Portland Noir is a collection of original short stories that is all over the map -- if the map is of the Rose City. The stories are set in different neighborhoods that collectively make up the seedy underbelly of Portland.

The anthology, edited by Kevin Sampsell, is part of the Akashic Books Noir series -- "a groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book."

The Portland stories take readers to many a gritty, greasy corner of Portland, where junkies break into the wrong houses, lesbians fantasize about strangling the men in their beds, and love gets strange. The stories come in many shades of dark, from creepy (“Baby, I’m Here”) to clever (“Shanghaied”); violent (“The Wrong House”) to sadly sweet (“Alzheimer’s Noir”).

If there is anything generally missing, it is high-end noir. The stories do not venture much past seedy motels, dive bars, and strip clubs, although there must be plenty of noir to be found in tonier venues. There are a few references to the trendy Pearl District, but a story or two involving the residents of Portland’s ritzier neighborhoods would have enhanced the collection.

And there are slim pickings for those who prefer their noir in the form of hard boiled detective stories. But the two included are a couple of the best pieces in the book because they capture Portland’s soul as well as her geography.

The first, "Coffee, Black" by Bill Cameron, is a great bit of caffeinated noir – a coffee-house mystery that perfectly captures Portland's espresso-fueled and anti-corporate culture. Camron has the hard-bitten prose down flat:
She's a touch thick, not quite shed of her winter fat, but she wears her flesh with oblivious self-assurance. I have no doubt a man with a flatter belly could pay her bar tab and bed her the same night, with no idea of the problems she'll cause over breakfast.
Philip Marlowe could not have said it better himself.

The second is “The Red Room” by Chris A. Bolton. This shakedown caper is set entirely inside Powell’s – the City of Books. There is something metafictional about an independently published story set in the world’s largest independent bookstore that seems very, very Portland.

Not every story in Portland Noir will appeal to every reader, but there is something in there for every noir fan.

NOTES

This book was the #3 fiction bestseller at Powell's when I was there yesterday.

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