Smith, who edited Akashic’s original New Orleans Noir (2007), goes back for a second trip to the Big Easy.
It’s not clear what makes all of Smith’s 18 picks classics. For some it’s age: Armand Lanusse’s “A Marriage of Conscience” dates from 1843. For others, it’s clearly bloodlines: O. Henry’s “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking” and Eudora Welty’s “The Purple Hat” come from authors whose literary pedigrees are formidable. But many, like Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s “Pie Man,” are post-Katrina offerings. What they have in common is a focus not on crime but on human misery. In some, like Ruffin’s story and James Lee Burke’s “Jesus Out to Sea,” the misery is foisted on humans by nature. There’s the misery of war, in Shirley Ann Grau’s “Miss Yellow Eyes,” and the misery of poverty, in Tom Dent’s “Ritual Murder.” Politics brings its own brand of misery in Poppy Z. Brite’s “Mussolini and the Axeman’s Jazz.” There’s the misery of unrequited love in Valerie Martin’s “Spats,” Nevada Barr’s “GDMFSOB,” and Ace Atkins’ “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” and the misery of hopeless love in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Tennessee Williams’ “Desire and the Black Masseur.” Children provide their share of misery in John William Corrington’s “Pleadings” and Ellen Gilchrist’s “Rich.” But perhaps the deepest misery of all is the desperation so unfathomable that it can be shared with no one, as in Grace King’s “The Little Convent Girl.”
All this misery makes for a bleak read, and readers looking for a typical noir experience had better fortify themselves.