Wednesday, September 29, 2010


A new anthology has hit the streets and it is an event simply because it is an anthology—they seem to be drying up—and even better, it is an anthology of noir stories. It is edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler and titled Best American Noir of the Century. While the title might be a touch boastful, the book does contain some sweet stories and a bunch of them—it’s filled with 39 stories on 731 pages.

A few of the stories will surprise you—David Morrell’s “The Dripping,” which was Morrell’s first published story and it might be his best; and “Mefisto in Onyx” by Harlan Ellison, which is as much speculative as suspense. There are many others that most of us wouldn’t immediately identify as noir, but as they’re read, it becomes plain they are just different shades of the same dark place.

Twenty of the 39 stories were written in the 1990s and 2000s, but it’s hard to find fault with the selections. A few examples of post-1990 stories that really work are: “Out There in the Darkness” by Ed Gorman (1995), which is the seed material for his novel The Poker Club and is even better than the novel; James M. Halls’ “Crack” (1999); James Crumley’s “Hot Springs” (1996); and “What She Offered” by Thomas H. Cook (2005), a writer who has worked the crime story into something very close to literature.

While the last two decades lay claim to more than half of the selected stories, the editors didn’t forget the early generations of noir. The earliest story, “Spurs” by Tod Robbins, was originally published in 1923 and it also contains stories by several of the better noir writers of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s; including Day Keene, Dorothy B. Hughes, Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, Charles Beaumont, Gil Brewer, Evan Hunter, Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson.

The Best American Noir of the Century is the best anthology I’ve seen in years. There are no duds in the bunch and while I have my favorites, all of the stories are good. It is a book that you’ll read more than once and will claim a place on your bookshelf for years.

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