Truth in labeling alert: Though all 15 stories veteran anthologist Penzler has collected are by African-American writers, most wouldn’t count as noir.
Practically all the contents are reprints, some from long ago, but apart from Walter Mosley’s “Black Dog” few are likely to be familiar. Generally speaking, the vintage rediscoveries are the best. Although the stories by Pauline E. Hopkins and George S. Schuyler could have been left to rest in peace, Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Sheriff’s Children” is unexpectedly touching in its portrait of past sins coming home to roost. Rudolph Fisher’s “John Archer’s Nose” spins deft complications out of a family-circle killing. Chester Himes’s “Strictly Business” captures a lost world of black pulp. Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “Summer Session” turns white slavery into an easygoing anecdote. Ann Petry’s “On Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon” is a mood piece of disturbing power. The contributions by relative newcomers tend to be more professional but less distinctive. Paula L. Woods, Robert Greer and Eleanor Taylor Bland present routine whodunits. The most interesting thing about Gary Phillips’s caper gone bad and Gar Anthony Haywood’s tale of jealousy and revenge between lifelong friends-turned-enemies is that they really are noir. The standout among the new kids on the block is Edward P. Jones’s “Old Boys, Old Girls,” which crams a lifetime’s worth of jailhouse disillusionment into 30 pages.
For all its ups and downs, well worth having for both its treasures from the past and the demonstration of how much vitality this neglected vein of crime fiction reveals.