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by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Akashic, July 2021
304 pages
ISBN: 1617759287

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Palm Springs may seem like it is all palm trees and midcentury homes, but this anthology of fourteen noir tales shows the dark side of this California region. As editor Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, also one of the authors of a story, says in the introduction, there is much that tourists don't see: a massive homeless population, gangs, crime, and the dried-up Salton Sea.

The short stories features a cast of grifters, has-beens, and other people trying to skirt the law. In "VIP Check-in" by Michael Craft, a man working for a vacation-rental agency has reinvented himself in Palm Springs. But when a dead body is found in one of the modernist homes that he handles, he's caught in the middle of a murder. Fresh beginnings may not be all that they are made out to be.

Several other short stories use homes to great effect. In "The Guest" by Eric Beetner, an Airbnb cottage owner finds one of his guests dead in the pool. Rather than calling the police, he and his caretaker dispose of the body. And in "The Water Holds You Still," by editor DeMarco-Barrett, a house and its pool also figure in a story about a woman who visits her mother, who has dementia, only to find that someone is stealing from her mother.

But not every story is set in a house, of course. The stories cover a range of areas, including the Joshua Tree desert wilderness, Salton Sea, and the Anza-Borrego State Park. The collection ends with a strong story set at the Salton Sea, "The Salt Calls Us Back," by Alex Espinoza. A dead body is found floating in the polluted water and, at the same time, a boy shows up in a trailer park populated by a religious sect who takes him in. But as police presence grows, things begin to fall apart.

The anthology is a travelogue, of sorts, although one filled with deadly characters and people who make one bad choice after another. If you enjoy noir, this latest by Akashic Books is a worthwhile read.

Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, August 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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