I’ve mentioned before the excellent website run by Paul D Brazill. It’s a mine of information about all things Noir and features interesting interviews with writers of the genre as well as book reviews and other articles. I’ve been meaning to read one of Paul’s books for a while and over the Christmas period I discovered an anthology of stories around the theme of being an ‘outsider.’ Brazill has edited the collection which also includes one of his own stories. It turned out to be a selection of very good noir tales.
Short stories are, however, notoriously difficult to review. You can either précis each one but this is likely to prove boring for readers of the review. Instead, I’d like to select my favourite stories in the collection, all of whom were by writers new to me.
Firstly, my absolute favourite was KA Laity’s Eating the Dream. It’s a modern day fable that was so powerful that I dreamt about the protagonist afterwards. The power of excellent writing. Also very good was Brazill’s story, The Weather Prophet. We get a view of a meeting in a hotel bar that really could be anywhere and the depressing consequences of a man who has virtually given up on life. Other favourites from this collection were Nick Sweeney’s The Place of the Dead a short bittersweet tale of infidelity whilst travelling and Dead Man Walking by Tess Makovesky, another tale of betrayal.
Collecting the stories around an overarching theme was an excellent idea for this book. It gave the collection a homogenous feel but allowed the writers to express their individual styles within the narratives. The stories are fairly short but many are powerful. And it’s allowed me to discover new writers I can’t wait to read more of.
Caffeine Nights is a publisher that I’ve been meaning to investigate for a while. I have Nick Quantrill’s The Crooked Beat primed to read in the next week or so and in 2015 they’re publishing a fellow reviewer’s debut, Snatched from Home by Graham Smith. The publisher’s books are largely hard-hitting noir tales. It’s not a genre I read much of and, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the place to go to discover all things noir is the excellent site of Paul D Brazill. I started with Russian Roulette by Keith Nixon which are a series of novellas brought together in a single volume. It’s a great introduction to the author and, if the quality of the writing is anything to go by, shows why noir is such a popular genre.
Konstantin Boryakov is an ex-KGB agent who arrives in the seaside town of Margate. He is immediately plunged into a trail of troubles as he comes up against small time criminals, a loan shark, a nightclub dominatrix Felicity, also known as Plastic Fantastic, and the club’s owner, Ken.
It’s quite difficult to summarise the plot of a collection of novellas, and I often have a similar problem when I review short stories. Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how the various narratives are successfully brought together. Firstly the setting. Margate is a seaside town with a reputation, in the book at least, for seediness and minor criminal activity. It’s not an area that I know well at all and yet it personifies the grimness of many English seaside towns that have lost their sheen over the years. The sense of menace is below the surface but ever present.
The character of Konstantin is also well-developed throughout the stories. He has a morality, of sorts, but this is tempered by the need to protect himself that has come through past failures. He’s at his most interesting when he joins in the fight but the most human when he walks away. I liked best the tales featuring Felicity. She tries to play Konstantin but fails because of his inherent need to move on from trouble.
The tone is resolutely noir and the writing is sharp and funny. It would make a great read over Christmas.