Not just ANY review, either! This is a review of the lovely, delightful, occasionally scary collection of stories called NOIR FATALE!
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Noir Fatale: if the title doesn't hook you, you probably weren't paying attention. It is fortunate for me that Good Girls are attracted to Bad Boys; that's how the Motorcycle White Boy, aka Redneck Biker, became a permanent fixture in the life of the Church Lady, aka my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. Flip the genders: is the opposite true as well? Do Nice Boys fall for Bad Girls? I have not a clue, never having been a Nice Boy. I suspect, though, that whether Naughty of Nice, there is something of danger, need to be rescued, sweetness of lips, with the outside hope of being shot, stabbed, or poisoned that does give these noir fatales something to work with.
MAJOR kudos to Sarah A Hoyt on the cover. She has captured a representative of the genre in the act of....something.
Kacey’s Introduction & Larry’s Introduction. Long, long ago, when I was first discovering the excitement of STORY (!), I always skipped the prefatory material. It took about twenty more years for me to discover that there was often some VERY interesting and important things going on in those ignored sections. Today, I love them! Particularly when, as in this case, we are given a peek backstage, and get an understanding about How It Works. Don't miss these!
Ain’t No Sunshine by Michael J. Ferguson and Christopher L. Smith. Slade and Collier are tough, hard-nosed PI types, not out of place in the 1930s Los Angeles setting, but in this little twister, they are in space. Slade's a bit of a techno-phobe, much to the amusement of others. Their business is (just) scraping by. Under those circumstances, you can't AFFORD to do much pro bono work. However, when an old flame, now one of the most powerful women in the habitat, dies under mysterious circumstances, penniless techno-phobes are on the job. Side characters include a second old flame, and a little sister-type. Remember the little sister in 'The Big Sleep?' The one who kept biting her thumb?
Recruiting Exercise by David Weber. Sometimes, when I read David Weber's work, I want to grab up a couple of history books, and re-examine the entire section of Western Civ that dealt with the various insanities that visited France in the 18th & 19th centuries. However, I just don't like the French very much- sorry – and so I haven't done that. This particular story deals with a young woman, starving, and with food and medicine withheld from her ailing brother, who decides to prostitute herself in order to get the things the utterly corrupt bureaucrats are holding back.
Spoils of War by Kacey Ezell. One day, Kacey Ezell is going to write a bad story. Maybe. From the evidence I've seen so far, though, that day is likely to come after the sun burns out. This gem sits on layer upon layer; the mysterious woman; the gent she seeks out for assistance, a war-time friend of her brother; and what WAS her brother up to, anyway? An evil, wicked Bad Man sends gunsels. And she has found the man of her dreams, and desires nothing more than to run away with him, and just be Joe and Betty Grumble; and Ezell writes in such a way that WE want this for her as well, and we are so very, very glad when it is finally in her grasp...
Apropos of nothing at all, did you know the most famous painting in the world wasn't really THAT famous until it was stolen? And that it's painted on wood, not canvas?
The Privileges of Violence by Steve Diamond Consider: Russia during the darkest days of consolidation of the Soviet Union; secret police everywhere; rebellions internal, and foreign intervention always possible. Therefore, the terror police were perhaps the most active and effective part of the entire country. Did I mention the monsters? Because there are monsters. With secrets. More twists and turns in this one than in the Runaway Mine Car at Six Flags, and I believe it captures the same bleakness of spirit that Orwell painted into '1984.'
A Goddess in Red by Griffin Barber. We use the term 'goddess' to describe a woman who takes our breath away with her beauty. This one is beautiful, and she can CERTAINLY take your breath away, but she also has some pretty creepy powers. She gets involved in a plot, and you have to wonder: what's in it for her? Is this just boredom setting in? Read it with the lights on. In every room. And a German Shepherd at your feet while you clutch a cat and a Browning Hi-Power close.
Kuro by Hinkley Correia. After reading this, I became curious as to the identity of Hinkley Correia, and her relationship to Larry. One thing I can say is this: the inclusion of this story in the collection owes NOTHING to nepotism. Great characters, GREAT story. Lots of depth, and wear your seat belt. Japanese freaky ghosts, and a significant serving of what life is like for the Japanese salaryman. Well done!
Sweet Seduction by Laurell K. Hamilton. I read this story while I was in the hospital, on a clear liquid diet. I wanted all of the cupcakes described in the book, and if they had been available, I just MIGHT have broken the rules. Now aside from that, it's a GREAT detective story, and a very nicely done social commentary as well. But I must have the address of that bakery, do you hear?
A String of Pearls by Alistair Kimble. Alistair has the credentials to write devastatingly fascinating detective fiction. However, none of that is evident here. I hated this story, which is obscure, internal, and boring. If you like internal dialogue from a protagonist who never gets to the point, you'll love this. I grew tired of internal dialogue that skirted the issue of what was really going on, and resolved that this one must be DEFENESTRATED. Hit it, Alicia Ann!
Alicia Ann destroys the printer
Honey Fall by Sarah A. Hoyt The last story in which I didn't care what was going on is followed by a story in which the protagonist doesn't know what is going on. We don't either, BUT we can see that there is a clear path that will take her, and us, there. Taking place in post-war, magic-infused world, a deliciously lovely little tale of the damsel in distress, and the distress of those who wish to harm or help.
Three Kates by Mike Massa I had the great privilege of living in what was then West Germany for two and a half years, and I worked closely with a man who was a veteran of the Wehrmacht, and a woman who was a veteran of the Luftwaffe. Therefore, I know from experience that not all Germans were Nazis, nor evil, nor anything of the sort. It had to be different during the actual conflict, even without the addition of magical themes this story brings us. Our protagonist is a German agent, sent on a mission to discover certain items of power. His crisis of conscience is NOT easily resolved, and is, in fact, perhaps even aggravated by the intervention of three lovely ladies with their own agenda.
Worth the Scars of Dying by Patrick M. Tracy Evidently, story length is of great importance to me, even if I can't define it. What starts out as a simple case of a damsel in distress, seeking assistance form an innkeeper who transforms into a beast, soon devolves into a story that seems interminable. So, I terminated it. Perhaps you will find a different outcome. Kenneth, I believe this one is yours:
The Frost Queen by Robert Buettner If someone had told me that Robert Buettner, cited as one of Heinlein's heirs, author of (among others) the Orphan series, was going to write a sweet YA adventure story about heroism, sacrifice, and falling in love, I would have murmured politely and changed the topic of conversation. BUT HE DID! It's a lovely little story; I think he gets all of the characters down perfectly. Along the way, he tosses in enough references to tension between the Earth dwellers and those on the Moon that we get it, we really do. I pass his house (sort of) every time I go Papa-sit three of my grands, and I'll wave a little more sweetly from this point on. (Not to be stalkerish: I DON'T know where his house is. I just know which exit off the highway it is.)
Bombshell by Larry Correia. If Correia didn't invent a couple of genres, he certainly made them come alive to new generations. My youngest son, the Moose, is a dedicated Monster Hunter and is enormously proud of the fact that he ran into Larry at a DragonCon. But in this delightful little tale, instead of sticking with mainstream Grimnoir-type special talents, he uses a cop with ZERO talent to solve crime, in spite of the specials. It's a great story, and, as is the case with so many others in this volume, keeps you on your toes.
All in all: despite the two stories I chose to dump, it's WELL worth your time. I found this fascinating; I don't know if it can be replicated, but I, for one, would love to see more.
And I want those cupcakes, too.
Peace be on your household.