Friday, 10 October 2014

Supernatural Noir edited by Ellen Datlow

There are some very good stories in this anthology, and a number of only so-so ones. I said that to my husband, and he replied, "so, it's an anthology?" Fair enough. More of the problem, if it's a particular problem, is that many of these stories are not very noir. Supernatural, sure. But a few fall down on the noir front. They lack that cynical edge of noir, even a few that manage to include detectives. It's not always a bad thing - one of my favourite stories in the collection isn't in the least a noir story. It's just a really good ghost story.

I read through this collection very slowly, so I'm not sure I remember a ton about a few of the stories. That may say something. But here we go, story by story:

The Dingus by Gregory Frost

This one has the driven detective (in this case, former coach), out to figure out what really killed his former protege and left him in a pile of shapeless ooze on the floor of a whorehouse. It's not bad, but not really striking. Definitely noir.

The Getaway by Paul G. Tremblay

I'm not really convinced this one was noir, more of a straightforward crime getaway story. But it's a good creepy supernatural story, as the men who planned a simple robbery pile into the car and start...disappearing? 

Mortal Bait by Richard Bowes

Definitely noir. And noir mixed with the fae works rather well - they have that potential cruelty and carelessness with human life that seems to be to be a hallmark of noir. This also has the nice twisty plot, where everyone is turned around and there are at least two more twists waiting.

Little Shit by Melanie Tem

I'm not really sure what I think about this story. The question about entrapping someone you care about is a good one, and the story certainly is disturbing. Noir? Maybe. Maybe not. This is the first time that I realized that a lot of these stories have lesbians as their protagonists, but not a single gay man. Interesting. Not a problem per se, but interesting that this seems to have gotten inclusive in one way but not another.

Ditch Witch by Lucius Shepherd

Oh, wait. The main character in this one, well, he's not gay himself, but might dabble? Okay, I sort of retract. But not really. At any rate, this young grifter picks up another young woman on the sleazy side of the street, and they end up staying at a roadside motel where - hey did that garden gnome just move? It's okay. Nothing stellar.

The Last Triangle by Jeffrey Ford

I really liked this one. I couldn't tell you why. I think it's the combo of the unreliable narrator and the old woman who takes him in that appealed to me. It's got an interesting detective story as she employs him to help her find out who might have been killing people at occult spots around town. And discovers that the culprit might be a figure from her past.

The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven by Laird Barron

Another one that just doesn't feel that noir. Parts of it at times, but it's mostly a story of a woman and her lover shacked up in the woods, where the lover discovers the powers of an old wolf pelt, and seems to be spending more time as a wolf than as a woman. I guess there is a detective. Still, more horror than noir.

The Romance by Elizabeth Bear

This is one of my favourite stories in the collection, and is absolutely in no way noir. I may be biased, as Bear is one of my favourite authors, but it's a really excellent ghost story, set around an old carousel. Just because there's a crime doesn't make it noir, unfortunately - how do we think most ghosts come into being? But still, it's creepy and the protagonist is middle-aged and interesting.

Dead Sister by Joe R. Lansdale

Probably the most noir and most accomplished story of the bunch, but would we expect anything else from Lansdale? Noir needs that neat turn of phrase as well as crime and a detective, and this has the trifecta, with a dame and everything. A woman shows up at a detective's door, with a story about her sister's grave being disturbed every night, and the answer is creepy as hell.

Comfortable in Her Skin by Lee Thomas

Frankly, I don't remember this one very clearly. It's something to do with a wizard and the ability to wear someone's else's skin, and while I think it was fine, the fact that I've forgotten most of the things about it is not a good sign.

But For Scars by Tom Piccirrilli

This is a haunting little tale about love and loss and how fucked up that can make someone. Set right in the middle of a biker gang, one man must try to figure out who killed the former leader years ago, if only to pay a debt to the daughter of that leader that he has failed. It's got a light touch with the supernatural, which seems just exactly right.

Blisters on My Heart by Nate Southard

I really liked this one, told by a dying man possibly facing the end of the world, telling the story of the woman he loved and may have doomed the world for. It's an intriguing voice, and truly unsettling in implications. 

The Absent Eye by Brian Evenson

This was more a meditation than a story. There's no real narrative to the story, most just the backstory for something else. It's interesting as a meditation, the idea of creatures that live with us until our deaths, but don't know what happens to themselves when they die. They find a human who can see them and he becomes a detective on the trail. Interesting, but still not really a story.

The Maltese Unicorn by Caitlin R. Kiernan

The most obviously noir in terms of the title, and makes good use of the conventions of noir. The twist here is not only the supernatural, but that the "detective" swept up in this who must figure out what's happened to her, is female. And a dame walks into her shop, telling her to pick up an object for a demon madam she does odd jobs for. This one is rife with more explicit sex than you would find in old noir, while still retaining the flavour, and the twistiness of alliances.

Dreamer of the Day by Nick Mamatas

Also one of the very noir stories in the bunch, this one has a dame trying to get a guy to off her husband. Her present lover takes her to an old man who might be able to help. But he might be sick of his position, and things may not work out the way she thought. Nicely twisty, tightly focused. Fun.

In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos by John Langan

Unwieldy title, but a very good story. It taps into real-life horrors like those that happened at Abu Ghraib, and puts a supernatural twist on them. Another one I'm not sure was really all that noir, but a very creepy story, and the melding of the real-world with the supernatural was excellently done. 

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