Book Review: A Collection Of Female Noir

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Sure, ice may be a dominant form of currency in the aftermath of a hurricane. But here’s what Tunnel Mole needed to survive two weeks of no electricity: a miner's hat avec flashlight. That's best for bedtime, to snuggle in and devour some juicy noir -- make mine the XX chromosome variety, please.

Houston's homegrown Busted Flush Press, owned by Murder by the Book's David Thompson, has another winner with A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, edited by Megan Abbott, herself a 2008 Edgar Award winner.

Noir is known for cutting to the chase; laying it on the line. We remember how much we loved it when we read one statement from the book, “Her mother taught her that the strongest poison came from the most beautiful flowers.” Only we’re not gonna tell you which story that was taken from, ‘cause we don’t want to spoil that story's ending.

This anthology’s offerings are categorized by noir jargon: starting with a few stories dubbed "Minxes, Shapeshifters and Hothouse Flowers." While we’ve often succumbed to membership in the latter category, we’re not exactly sure what a “shapeshifter” is, so maybe that describes our overall tepid reaction to the first group of short stories.

But the next selection revs up nicely, and no wonder, with a category title of "Gold-Diggers, Hustlers and B Girls." It opens with "Nora B.", a hard-boiled Gaelic tale written by Ken Bruen. Just when you begin to wonder if true noir demands to be written by a man, along comes Donna Moore’s “Bumping Uglies,” easily one of the top five tales of the book. Its twist ending will satisfy the thirstiest of women scorned.

In "Working Girls, Tomboys and Girls Friday," the feminist theme of Cornelia Read’s “Hungry Enough” is an inspiration – if you’re into doing whatever it takes for your sisters. We're not alone in holding it in high esteem: it just won the 2008 Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Story.

As noted on its cover, Hell includes Daniel Woodrell’s 2008 Edgar Award-nominated story, “Uncle.” If that's only a nominee, we’d sure like to read the entry that won that category, because Woodrell's nauseatingly chilling portrait of a loser was a big winner in our book. It’s slotted in "Hellcats, Madwomen and Outlaws," along with “Undocumented,” a particularly satisfying contribution by S.J. Rozan.

Being powerless after Ike, we couldn’t keep up for 14 news cycles' worth of election coverage – what a loss! – so we got our fix instead by reading Politics Noir: Thirteen Dark Tales from the Corridors of Power, edited by Gary Phillips (Wall Street Noir’s a fine collection, as well.).

Good thing we loaded up at Murder by the Book before Ike – they suffered a bit of storm damage, but happily, are back on track now. We appreciate a store as driven as some of the skirts in this book: If you like any of the authors, Murder by the Book will either show you what else they've got in stock – or will kill to find it for you.

--Tunnel Mole

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