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AUSTIN NOIR
by Hopeton Hay, Scott Montgomery, and Molly Odintz , editors
Akashic Books, May 2023
$16.95
ISBN: 1636140890


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Austin is an eclectic, interesting, creative and problematic city. Apparently--I have never been. I've only seen it on film and heard in passing, on several occasions, about the "Republic of Austin," culturally and ideologically set apart from Texas proper. I was therefore intrigued by the appearance of Akashic's latest urban-noir anthology. It's edited by a good combination of insiders: CrimeReads senior editor and Austin native and resident Molly Odintz and two other Austinites, radio show how Hopeton Hay and independent bookseller Scott Montgomery. This trio has pulled together a multifaceted, suspenseful, and evocative collection of flash noir tales that illustrate many of Austin's neighborhoods, communities, and internal contradictions.

The Introduction provides a good orientation to the city and its Gothic potential. Austin is many things: "a beacon," a place where people have "relocated from California," a place where "Black and brown people" are being displaced by gentrification. It's "the Live Music Capital of the World," launchpad of Janis Joplin. It's Texas and it's not. It's the city that "fear[s] becoming Dallas."

It's difficult to identify highlights of the collection because all of the stories are so good. Gabino Iglesias gets the volume off to a great start with "The Pink Money," the tale of a heist poorly planned by men who need better chances than heists,.In Ace Atkins's "Red River Street," a has-been stuntman attempts a final stunt, and negotiates a painful relationship with his daughter. This is told backwards, beginning with an accident--or a crime. In Amanda Moore's "Reflections," a successful Black woman lawyer who "never liked mirrors" comes home from Houston because something terrible has happened. She finds plenty of material for reflection. In Lee Thomas's "Charles Bronson," a man in cowboy boots asks the father of a troubled 23-year-old to make a deal with the devil. One of the mysteries they explore is what "crypto" actually is. In Miriam Kuznets's "Saving," a woman's friend who left Austin and made good is up to no good, with crimes including art forgery.

Odintz's contribution, "Michael's Perfect Penis," is alarming in a necessary way. Michael and Sandra are heroine Angela's post-college co-op neighbours. Michael has a history of domestic violence, and after Sandra moves out, then back in, she turns up dead. Angela isn't going to let Michael get away with murder, even though the co-op will. Andrew Hilbert's "Bangface Vs. Cleaning Solutions LLC" sends up the noir genre by following the exploits of an Austin P.I. known as Bangface. He talks like Sam Spade but has a cat named Mariposa.

One of the most powerful stories in Chaitali Sen's carefully titled "The Foundation," in which a developer's employee, Ramona tries to con an elderly Black woman whose son is serving in Japan out of her house. Ramona has done this before, in Brooklyn, New York's Bed(ford)-Stuy(vesant) neighbourhood, which is a gentrificiation horror story. "Management," Ramona recalls, "operated out of some start-up hub in San Francisco." Ramona has a job because evil needs a face and to knock on doors.

All the stories begin with their real-Austin locations, from the "East Side" to "Southpark Meadows." These words meant nothing to me, as I have never been to Austin, but they may resonate with more knowledgeable readers. Maybe someday I'll know what they mean. Despite all of the horrific goings-on that AUSTIN NOIR details, it makes Austin seem well worth a visit.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, May 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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