Originally Published 2012
From Trench Town to Half Way Tree to Norbrook to Portmore and beyond, the stories of Kingston Noir shine light into the darkest corners of this fabled city.
Joining award-winning Jamaican authors such as Marlon James, Leone Ross, and Thomas Glave are two “special guest” writers with no Jamaican lineage: Nigerian-born Chris Abani and British writer Ian Thomson. The menacing tone that runs through some of these stories is counterbalanced by the clever humor in others, such as Kei Miller’s “White Gyal with a Camera,” who softens even the hardest of August Town’s gangsters; and Mr. Brown, the private investigator in Kwame Dawes’s story, who explains why his girth works to his advantage: “In Jamaica a woman like a big man. She can see he is prosperous, and that he can be in charge.”
Together—with more contributions from Patricia Powell, Colin Channer, Marcia Douglas, and Christopher John Farley—the outstanding tales in Kingston Noir comprise the best volume of short fiction ever to arise from the literary wellspring that is Jamaica.
When I pick up one of the Akashic Noir anthologies I am really hoping for two things.
The first hope is that the stories contained in the collection will be interesting and speak to the distinctive aspects of a city such as its people and geography. Something that draws on a culture’s identity and perhaps immerses you so much that you feel you are there when you pick them up.
The second hope is to discover authors that would otherwise not be on my radar. Sometimes there are authors who are working for the first time in this style and genre but you also encounter more seasoned and distinctive voices.
Of the various Akashic titles I have read so far, Kingston Noir does the best job of fulfilling both of those hopes. Every story had its own distinctive voice, use of language and discussed themes and ideas that emerge from and make use of the stories’ settings.
Pleasingly the stories also generally avoid falling into cliche, showing us different aspects of society and in a few cases exploring the way the city has changed over the years. Not all are equally strong but even the less successful stories feel like they have something meaningful and interesting to say and justify the read.
The first section of the collection deals with characters visiting Kingston, exploring their statuses as outsiders in the city. All four stories in this section were interesting and offer quite distinctive voices and perspectives but my favorite here was Tomcat Beretta, a fascinating story that opens with a woman trying to acquire a gun leaving the reader to learn her reasons why.
The second section, “Is This Love?” was, for me, the weakest of the three. These stories are more crime-focused than those in the other two sections but they are also heavily psychological and discuss issues of sexuality and desire. I found this and some of the discussion of social issues to be interesting and of the four tales, Immaculate is by far the most successful.
The final section, “Pressure Drop”, features just three stories though each of them is remarkable in their own way. The first tale, 54-46 (That’s My Number), is a clever tale that follows an investigation into the disappearance of an athlete. As the title suggests there are mathematical elements to this and I found the relationship between the narrator and his math prodigy brother to be quite compelling.
The other two stories, Sunrise and Monkey Man, are heavier reads and end the book on a rather intense note (in spite of the section’s title). The former is a genuinely upsetting read but I think Abani’s story is quite powerful and it is highly successful in exploring how a character’s life will lead up to a moment and a choice. The latter is a crazier story with some dark elements but, once again, I was impressed by how thoughtful the writing is. Certainly nothing here felt unnecessary to the plot and themes that the writers developed.
Now, I suppose I should point out that Kingston Noir will not be for everyone. Triggers abound, particularly in terms of sexual violence, making for some heavy reading at time. Still, the quality of the writing is superb and I was impressed with the diversity of voices and the richness of the themes that this group of writers develop.
Of the various Akashic anthologies I have read so far, I consider this to be by far the most successful and engaging. Thoughts on each of the stories follow…Continue reading “Kingston Noir, edited by Colin Channer”