Noirvile is available to buy direct from Fahrenheit here:
(This review was originally posted in fifteen parts across #Fahrenbruary, the below brings all of those posts together in one place)
Noirville is an anthology of fifteen short stories that were pieced together through a short story competition in late 2017, whist they all fall into this category we do have tales of varying length, with the shortest being only three pages long, they all pack a punch though. There is a huge range of stories for you to get your teeth into. Many original takes on established tropes and some that just come out of leftfield. In the tradition of Fahrenheit though, they are all unashamedly noir. Each and every one is a perfectly formed slice of crime writing. So much so that I didn’t feel like I could review this book in my normal way, there is too big a risk that something or somebody gets missed, every writer has worked their socks off on these stories. So in celebration of #Fahrenbruary, I am going to review each story individually. Just a paragraph or so per tale, but ensuring that all get the recognition from me that they so deserve.
- Assassin’s Day Off by Marc Sorondo
Following the story of a hitman with a conscience, Assassin’s Day Off is an intriguing take on the typical story of this kind. Our nameless lead has been dispatched to kill a woman who by pure chance had witnessed a mob hit and was willing to testify as such. This marked her card for death. Where the story gets interesting is how the assassin responds to the emotional impact of killing an innocent. Some series touch on this, Max Allan Collins Quary books to some extent, but Marc achieves more in this vein in his short wordcount than many longer stories do. I won’t say much more here as that would ultimately spoil the story.
As an opener for Noirville, this tale packs a real punch and sets up the tone of what’s to follow throughout. The writing is of a clipped classic pulp style that suits the character perfectly, all business and no flash. There are a number of stories in Noriville, this is the first of them, where I’d love to see the idea fleshed out further into a full novel or series.
- The Business Card by Jeff C Stevenson
Have you seen Zodiac? If you haven’t then I would recommend that you do, if you have then you’ll know the type of story that Jeff C Stevenson has delivered. A series of murders, seemingly at random but all marked with a white business card. The card is the only common thread, on the face of it at least, and contains a string of letters and numbers, nothing else. In my first Noirville review, I said that there were a few tales that I felt could be turned into longer stories, this is one of them. To the extent that you are even left on a cliff-hanger. I would love to see that resolved in another story, in whatever format Jeff wishes to write it.
Paced to within an inch of its life, Jeff has crafted an almost perfect serial killer thriller here, the kind of tale that really keeps you guessing to the end, giving up its clues little by little as you read. The kind of story that would make a great movie or TV series. One day I should be starting a review by asking if you’ve seen The Business Card?
- The Canary Islands Crime Boss by Glenda Young
Only on my third of fifteen reviews, and I’ve used the word classic a lot so far. I’m not about to stop here. One of the things Noirville delivers is a huge range of styles and approaches. So far we have had examples of classic hitman and serial killer stories, The Canary Islands Crime Boss is in the classic fish out of water style. Jimmy married into a successful crime family and soon found himself working for his brother in law as an accountant. Not something he was terribly comfortable with but he also likes the lifestyle, his conscience doesn’t run that deep it seems.
We do love a good underdog and I think you’ll find yourself rooting for Jimmy from the off. Packing a lot of story into just ten pages, this is classic brit noir with a streak of dark humour running through it. Brits will especially enjoy a running joke about baked beans. Now there’s a line I never thought I’d write in a review.
- Fido The Assistance Dog by Patsy Collins
Patsy has crafted a very clever story with a bit of a twist on the personality of underworld types. Or as they are portrayed in noir stories I should say. The story follows a career criminal and his new pet dog, whom he uses to hide his real activity of scoping out potential targets. Fido is a rescue dog, and fiercely loyal to our anti-hero who is loyal in return, despite the original aims the relationship that builds is actually quite touching.
With an interesting twist at the ending, or a possible twist I should say as words can be taken in many ways and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to how the tale ends, Fido The Assistance Dog manages to draw a realised suburban world. Giving a noir take on what might otherwise be thought of as ‘cosy crime’ and reminding us that we never really know what is going on behind closed doors.
- Justin’s Room by Jen Delozier
Justin’s Room is a difficult one to review, I’ve been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading trying to put across the impact of this story and how much it achieves in a very short space of time. With a span of just three pages in Noirville, Jen Dozier manages to spin a tale that invests you in its lead character, horrifies you with its subject matter and has an ultimately satisfying outcome. There’s even a twist ending, just to keep the classic noir standards alive and well, even in the short form.
- Washed Up by Paul Gadsby
An interesting story this one, a simple premise when you think about it but not one that is often written about. What happens when gangsters reach retirement age? When the next generation start to come through and bring their own ideas to the table. Cocky little buggers as it turns out.
Paul has created a story reminiscent of a full novel here, paced and structured as such. Moving at a great speed and with a well built sense of unease and tension. The problem with trying to unseat the old guard is their senses are honed over a long time in the business. Loyalty, not so much. Our characters find this out to their expense. A great lesson in respecting our elders and not underestimating their worth. Noir with a social message underpinning it.
Pauls full length novel Back Door to Hell was part of my most recent Fahrenheit order. On the strength of this story, and Martins #Fahrenbruary review over at The Beardy Book Blog (check that out here), I can’t wait to get to it.
- The Icing On The Cake by Russel Day
If you’ve been following #Fahrenbruary all month, you will hopefully have seen our guest post from Russ (here) and my review of his full debut novel Needle Song (here). The Icing On The Cake is the story that brought Russ to the attention of Fahrenheit. And on reading this, you can see why the judges were impressed.
At its heart the story is about the interplay between two characters on a car journey. A seasoned gangster on his release from prison and the young lad who has only just joined the firm that is picking him up to take him to his ‘surprise’ welcome home party. Russ’s skill with building interesting characters, even over such a short word count, and building a convincing world in which for them to live really shines through here. The dialogue between the two leads really drives the story forward, alongside the narration provided by our driver. A driver whose motivations are never really clear. Until the ending that is. An explosive, dramatic close to a great story
- Gianfranco’s List by S.E. Bailey
Telling the story of a person who got out, and the life she left behind coming back to haunt her. A story of secrets that refuse to stay buried and past mistakes impacting on the present. All in the space of a well structured short.
There are more secrets and lies in this story than most noir novels cram in to 200 pages or more, making for an exciting and paced read. Laura, the one that got out, and Mary-Beth, the one that tracked her down to extort help are both richly drawn characters as is Gianfranco of the title. Oozing menace, he is spoken about with a mixture of reverence and fear throughout. Another classic trope of the noir genre, done in an engaging and well written manner.
- Banger’s Gym by John Schreier
One of my favourites, I know I shouldn’t play favourites but we all do to a greater or lesser extent. In a volume packed with great stories, standing out above the pack is a challenge. The originality of this tale is what makes it memorable. The story starts out as another classic trope, our protagonist is a boxer who never quite made it, needing a job after his last fight he is brought in to the firm of local gangster Sonny. All is going well, until he is asked to step it up a notch. He balks at the final moment, screws up the job and goes on the run fearing for his life.
All sounding familiar so far? The ending to this story won’t though. I won’t spoil it, but it really plays with your expectations and makes you revisit what you’ve just read. And manages to be funny, all at the same time. An impressive story throughout.
- Visiting Day by John Scheck
A tale about a man visiting his brother in prison, and the lengths one might go to for family – regardless of the mistakes they might have made along the way. Intriguingly told, as our protagonist for the best part gets sucked into the crimes of the tale rather than being directly involved, caught in the crossfire of his brothers life in prison and the actions of a cowardly official.
Covering a range of subjects from life in prison, rival gangs, control and the fight for power, family dynamics and the love that can drive this. Visiting Day is far more than a prison drama, its an epic in its own right.
- Kyiv Heat by Alex Shaw
Structured more like a novel than a short story, Kyiv Heat follows the story of old friends, old enemies and an investigation that could have dramatic life changing consequences. But cold war politics and the old habits of spooks die hard, is everything as it seems?
One of the longer stories in Noirville, Alex uses every word available to him. There is no wasted prose here, and in such a short space has developed characters’ that interest and engage you in their lives, makes you wonder about their history – how have they ended up in the positions of power they hold? Kyiv Heat could easily be the jumping off point for a series of stories exploring these characters’, whilst being a worthwhile and engrossing story in its own right.
- The Shrieking Of Nothing by Joe Guglielmelli
What could drive a normal man to kill? Not a gangster, a criminal, a hitman, a police officer or someone defending their life or that of their loved ones, or even seeking revenge for a killing, as we usually find in noir. But a normal man, in a normal job, living in a normal apartment. What would drive such a person to want to plan and carry out a pre-meditated murder? That’s the concept underlying The Shrieking of Nothing.
This is a thought-provoking story, a decent into madness and an examination of grief. Joe also examines the connections we make in life and the importance of the little things. Empathy runs deep in this story and it really drives home the importance in life of being ale to understand more than one point of view and relating to those you encounter every day. A small act of kindness or understanding can go a long way.
- After The Elephant Ears by Scott Miles
A story about family and regret, the damage that addiction can do. Chelsea is a mother and ex-wife who has struggled with addiction. Its cost her both her husband and her daughter, the crimes that she was led to as a result of her addiction saw her behind bars.
Redemption is for me the overriding theme of this tale though, we meet Chelsea as she is re-connecting with her daughter through supervised visitation and starting a new job. Can she keep up this new life though? Or will she get sucked back in? Redemption in noir never comes cheap, how successful Chelsea is an open question for the reader to decide. Is it worth the price she pays?
- A Real Scorcher by Sarah M Chen
A tale told in more of the typical short story style than some we have seen recently, I have loved the mix of approaches to story telling over a shorter word count that the judges chose though. A Real Scorcher is the tale of a couple struggling with their marriage, setting out on a trip to Mexico, a last-ditch attempt at recovering things via a holiday.
As always in noir though, things aren’t quite what they seem, either with our characters or the situations they find themselves in. As the pieces start to come together your views on who are the good and bad guys in this get turned around a little, and the ending has a wonderfully satisfying reveal.
- Walk Away by Chris Hyatt
A career criminal, a complicated family. A wife with a past that comes back to haunt in dramatic style. Violence, bloody violence. Redemption at great personal cost. This one has all the classic elements of noir. What a way to close out the collection.
It may have a lot of classic elements to it, but that doesn’t make it predictable or even worse, cliché instead managing to feel modern and contemporary throughout. Hitting those notes, without falling into the traps is quite a talent, and Chris Hyatt manages it in fine style here. The story has two elements to it, which almost feels designed to reflect the double life that Tom, our narrative voice and career criminal, leads. These come crashing together in the final climactic scenes as a planned robbery doesn’t play out quite the weway it was intended. Another tale here with a not entirely clear ending, that’s a deliberate and considered move as Chris prefers to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of mini-reviews. Compiling them has been a highlight of #Fahrenbruary for me. The collection has it all in noir terms, so many different tropes covered. So many classic elements with a fresh twist. Some real thought-provoking stories that stay with you, almost haunting in their simplicity. Some good old-fashioned crime romps too. A serial killer concept that really could be the start of a fantastic novel. I’ve not often read short story collections, preferring longer forms where I get to spend more time with a character. The mastery of the short story though is when a writer is able to get under your skin with a character that you care about, build up that relationship with the reader and to do it all in just a few thousand words. Noirville shows that skills off in its authors, and in spades. A phenomenal collection of stories, new talent and more established writers combined to give a fantastic anthology showing off what modern noir is all about.