"Kansas City, famous for its jazz, its barbecue, and its shady history, provides the venue for this solid addition to Akashic's acclaimed noir anthology series."
"Hard-used heroes and heroines seem to live a lifetime in the stories...Each one seems almost novelistic in scope. Half novels-in-waiting, half journalistic anecdotes that are equally likely to appeal to Kansas City boosters and strangers."
“Travel has many unexpected benefits, so even if you’ve never had a reason to visit the city itself, you’ll find Kansas City Noir surprisingly well worth the price of the ticket.”
"Picture steam rising from a sewer grate on a rain-slicked street. The sound of footsteps comes closer and closer behind you as you walk down a dark, downtown Kansas City alley. If this scenario entices you, then you just might enjoy Kansas City Noir."
Kansas City Public Television
"What we heard was REALLY GOOD. So good in fact that we picked up a copy. Now we're... getting ready to read it in one sitting."
Tony's Kansas City
Brand-new stories from: J. Malcolm Garcia, Grace Suh, Daniel Woodrell, Kevin Prufer, Matthew Eck, Philip Stephens, Catherine Browder, John Lutz, Nancy Pickard, Linda Rodriguez, Andrés Rodríguez, Mitch Brian, Nadia Pflaum, and Phong Nguyen.
Steve Paul has been a writer and editor at the The Kansas City Star since 1975. Currently the arts editor, he writes about music, books, architecture, food, and, occasionally, murder. He's the author of Architecture A to Z: An Elemental, Alphabetical Guide to Kansas City's Built Environment. A former bookseller and a native of Boston, he has served as a board member and officer of the National Book Critics Circle.
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Kansas City Noir
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2012 Akashic Books
All right reserved.
It was winter when a young newspaper reporter, recently back from the war in Europe, holed up in a rooming house in Michigan and turned his mind back to Kansas City.
He churned out a story of the kind he hoped one of the magazines would want. There was a murder. There was a mild-mannered newspaper man named Punk Alford. And there was an anguished, effete suspect who stroked a sword's edge as if it were ... well, you know.
Whether the budding author mailed that early effort to the Saturday Evening Post or any other magazine is unknown. But the story was never published, so Ernest Hemingway's future reputation was spared embarrassment and his apprenticeship in writing continued a few more years.
Hemingway, of course, later penned some of the great noir ur-tales of the 1920s and '30s, notably "The Killers" and To Have and Have Not. Lesser known among Hemingway's fictional record are murky-toned stories such as "A Pursuit Race," about a wigged-out heroin addict, and "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen," featuring a castration, both of which share two significant things with the unpublished Punk Alford story—namely, an origin and a setting in Kansas City.
Hemingway was eighteen years old in October 1917 when he arrived in Kansas City from a Chicago suburb to become a reporter at the Kansas City Star. For the next six and a half months, before he decamped to join the ambulance service in Italy, Hemingway discovered, while chasing ambulance surgeons and cops, what we still know: the streets of Kansas City are paved with dark tales aplenty.
Kansas City is a crossroads. East meets West and North meets South here. Since its settlement in the first half of the nineteenth century, Kansas City has represented a place of opportunity, optimism, and ornery behavior. It outfitted travelers and dreamers on the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon trails. It grew on cattle, grain, and lumber. It nurtured Jesse James, jazz, and gin-slinging scoundrels.
When I put out the call for contributions to this collection, I imagined we'd produce tributaries to a fictional stream that extends from nineteenth-century cowboy novels, through Hemingway's brand of gritty tales, and to the contemporary, unsparing visions of his successors. (For a taste of period Kansas City pulp at its peak, try finding—it's not easy—a copy of Tuck's Girl, a paperback novel published in 1952 by another onetime Kansas City Star reporter, Marcel Wallenstein.) I deliberately failed to define "noir" to prospective contributors. As previous anthologies in this series have shown quite effectively, the term represents a big tent. So here you will indeed find serial killers, moral turpitude, and police detectives at work. But you are just as likely to encounter quieter tales of inner turmoil, troubled reflection, and anxiety. The heart in stress can lead people to unpredictable and midnight-blue places.
In "Cat in a Box," Kevin Prufer's veteran detective/protagonist is on the trail of a killer while his own body threatens to change the course of his life and career.
In Nancy Pickard's "Lightbulb," a woman climbs deep into regret and guilt over an old memory. Pickard's story also negotiates the long shadow of Kansas City's racial divide, as does Linda Rodriguez's tale of a widower trying to maintain his life's order in a time of upheaval and collision.
Some stories within evoke real places and people, though just a reminder—this is a collection of fiction, not history. In "Come Murder Me Next, Babe," Daniel Woodrell, master of Missouri noir, imagines a femme fatale who may resonate with Kansas City readers of a certain age. And in setting "Yesterdays" in Milton's Tap Room, Andrés Rodríguez imagines an alternate history for the much beloved bootlegger, bar owner, and friend to jazz, who died in 1983. (Milton's, a noirish bar if there ever was one, I add with great affection, also shows up as a touchstone in Philip Stephens's troubling and trenchant Midtown tale, "You Shouldn't Be Here.")
By contrast, Nadia Pflaum invents a barbecue legacy that may or may not sound like a real Kansas City institution. (We repeat: any resemblance to real people ...) And Phong Nguyen steps into that nineteenth-century dime-novel current to imagine an episode from the earlier days of political machinist Jim Pendergast and his famous Climax Saloon.
Some stories take liberties with geography and specific places, which, of course, is the prerogative of fiction writers. Local readers can make their own gotcha lists, though I trust they will do so with a smile and nonetheless recognize their city's pulse reverberating in these pages.
First-time visitors to Kansas City usually note with surprise the greenery and the winding, hilly topography of our sprawling, two-state metropolitan area. Yet even the City Beautiful foliage and suburban finery can hide crime and lives of moral weakness, as Grace Suh displays in "Mission Hills Confidential."
Tourists and locals alike love their sports here, their slow-smoked ribs, their shopping, and the gab that goes on at neighborhood bars. Walking on the wild side is a long tradition here too, evidence of the full range of Kansas City's human condition. Our lineup of fine writers explores that condition in numerous and compelling ways. Through wintry chill. Through moonlit mystery. And often, befitting our literary and musical heritage, through singing the blues.
Steve Paul Kansas City June 2012
Excerpted from Kansas City Noir Copyright © 2012 by Akashic Books. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsTable of Contents
Part I: Heartland
“Missing Gene” by J. Malcolm Garcia (Troost Lake)
“Cat in a Box” by Kevin Prufer (Country Club Plaza)
“Mission Hills Confidential” by Grace Suh (Mission Hills)
“Come Murder Me Next, Babe” by Daniel Woodrell (12th Street)
“The Softest Crime” by Matthew Eck (41st and Walnut)
“You Shouldn’t Be Here” by Philip Stephens (Midtown)
Part II: Crazy Little Women
“The Incident” by Catherine Browder (Northeast)
“The Good Neighbor” by Linda Rodriguez (South Troost)
“Thelma and Laverne” by John Lutz (West 8th Street)
“Lightbulb” by Nancy Pickard (The Paseo)
Part III: Smoke & Mirrors
“Yesterdays” by Andrés Rodríguez (Milton’s Tap Room)
“Last Night at the Rialto” by Mitch Brian (The Celluloid City)
“Charlie Price’s Last Supper” by Nadia Pflaum (18th and Vine)
“The Pendergast Musket” by Phong Nguyen (West Bottoms)