Reviews > Published on February 5th, 2014

Bookshots: 'USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series' edited by Johnny Temple

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series

Who wrote it:

This collection...features the work of top contemporary writers...and is full of dark-hearted fare that'll haunt your dreams.

Edited by Johnny Temple, this collection includes tales from such literary gems as Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, and Megan Abbott.

Plot in a box:

A collection of the best tales from the nearly sixty volumes of geographically-themed anthologies of American noir.

Invent a new title for this book:

Welcome to the Jungle: Concrete Noir

Read this if you liked:

Any of the other books in the Akashic series. Or if you just like your fiction short and dark.

Meet the book's lead:

There are far too many to list. One of my favorites is Ray from Karen Karbo's "The Clown and Bard" (set in Portland), who's nearly comical in his inability to accept responsibility for his wife's murder.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Jared Leto. Because this film would have a lot of roles, and after Dallas Buyers Club, it's clear he can play anyone.

Setting: would you want to live there?

I sorta do already, being that all of the stories are set somewhere in the US. But (amazingly) there's no version yet for Atlanta (which is where I call home), and I'm grateful for that. I'm pretty sure it'd be easy to put one together, but I don't think I'd want to see that much darkness so close to where I live. 

What was your favorite sentence?

I could admit, if I let myself, there was a beauty in it, if you squinted, tilted your head. If you could squeeze out ideas of the kind of beauty you can test in your palm, fasten around your neck, never have an unease about, a slip of cashmere, one fine pearl, a beauty everyone would understand and feel safe with. But I wouldn't really do that, not for more than a second.

-from Megan Abbott's "Our Eyes Couldn't Stop Opening," set in Detroit

The verdict:

This book is not for the faint of heart, and it's not for anyone who likes to cuddle up with a cozy mystery and a hot cup of tea before bed. This collection of noir Americana, hand-picked from the already-stellar Akashic anthology series, features the work of top contemporary writers along the ranks of Lee Child and Laura Lippman, and is full of dark-hearted fare that'll haunt your dreams.

Each story hails from a different urban underbelly, but they all share a few commonalities. Setting is always a character, helping to set each story's gritty atmosphere, tone, and mood. Grisly urban details are used as a subtle form of foreshadowing between the damaged, often unlikable characters and their complicated, usually dysfunctional relationships. A lot of the main characters are unreliable or downright devious, and many harbor deep faults—desperation, irresponsibility, longing for youth—that drive every action. There's a feeling in each story of innocence lost, or of its impending loss, and the reader is helpless to stop it. Many of the stories are both romantically and sexually bleak, as the characters are incapable of experiencing anything resembling love. Issues of race and social strata divisions are prevalent.

But the stories aren't merely a series of depressing social essays on the human condition. Just when I would begin to feel like I needed to watch a Disney movie for some balance, along would come a story that surprised me. Like Julie Smith's New Orleans-set tale, which showed me noir can be a breath of fresh air, even if you fall in love with the character you feel certain will ultimately meet their doom. Or Megan Abbott's Detroit ditty, which showed me the suburbs can be just as scary as the darkest corners of the city. Or Karen Karbo's Portland story, which taught me I can root for a murderer, as long as he's got a sense of humor.

These stories will make you feel something. There's no doubt about that. It's just a matter of what. The book's already gleaning awards, and I can see why. Just don't expect a cozy read, and have a Disney flick on hand for balance.

About the author

Tiffany is a young adult novelist represented by Annie Bomke Literary Agency, and operates TJ Writeography, a freelance editing and writing service. Tiffany lives in Atlanta with her husband, dog, and two (sometimes three) kids. When she's not glued to her Apple family or chasing things around the house, she likes to read, crochet, play piano, ingest vast quantities of Cadbury eggs, and marathon Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns. Find her at and on Twitter at @Fictiffous.

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