Monday, March 06, 2006

Tart Noir, edited by Stella Duffy & Lauren Henderson

(pb; 2002: story anthology)

From the back cover:

“These are the bad girls [who] are tough enough to take on thugs, tender enough to be moved to tears. Half Phillip Marlowe, half femme fatale, they’ve got questionable morals and their attitudes need adjustment. They’re tarts. And they’re the heroines of this collection of twenty wickedly edgy new stories of hot passion and cold calculation, written by twenty of the most exciting female voices on the British and American crime scene today...”


Solid anthology, with a few clunkers, but mostly good stories.


1.) “Revenge Is The Best Revenge” – Chris Niles: Exemplary tale about a newswoman who metes out (and darkly funny) vengeance on the executive bitch who fired her. Lots of twists, cynical humor (much of it at the expense of corporate media); marred by a lackluster finish – great lead-up, though.

2.) “Metamorphosis” – Val McDermid: A married Manchester barrister becomes embroiled in an intense lesbian affair, one that threatens to become obsessive. Heavy on sapphic sex, it’s well-written in the first-person POV, with a solid finish.

3.) “Stormy, Mon Amour” – Vicki Hendrix: One of the most unique noir tales I’ve ever read. A young woman has an affair with a dolphin (Stormy) and has his baby, a mermaid named Mineaux – much to the consternation of her abusive redneck husband. Original, great, memorable.

4.) “No Parachutes” – Karen Moline: Rambling pointless tale about a woman who has a one-night fling with a Robert Redford look-alike after an in-flight stabbing. There’s a few funny one-liners in this, but the plot fizzles into nothing early on.

5.) “Enough Was Enough” – Martina Cole: Solid tale that builds towards a dark, if not unexpected, twist. Good, tone-balancing finish.

6.) “Queen Of Mean” – Liza Cody: Okay, overly-long story about a woman who decides to change her life. The writing’s decent, but the ending’s long in coming, and flat.

7.) “What He Needed” – Laura Lippman: A woman briefly agonizes over whether or not to leave her clingy husband. Well-written, this builds to a cool twist and stunning end-line.

8.) “Alice Opens The Box” – Denise Mina: Sad, creepy tale about an emotionally-unbalanced woman who killed her children. Solid, depressing, with a pathetic protagonist.

9.) “The Convenience Boy” – Sujata Massey: A twenty-something Japanese woman sets out to find out who her mysterious, late-night lover is. Initially implausible – Miho’s acceptance of her lover’s intrusions are disturbing – it’s a decent story, improved by the author’s strong use of Japanese culture. Sharp-eyed readers will spot the end-twist long before it comes, but the ending is good.

10.) “The Wrong Train” – Jenny Colgan: A woman (Frankie) boards a train, and turns her world upside down. Okay, but overly-long; tighter writing would’ve served this story better.

11.) “The Man” – Katy Munger: A male gold-digger meets the woman of his dreams... but is she for real? Most reader will probably figure out the ending long before it comes, but it’s a fun ride anyway, with an end-line that echoes the final line of the film Angel Heart.

12.) “I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside” – Jessica Adams: A constable (Peter Warlow) visits a sexy psychic (Madame Romodo) to wrap up a murder investigation. There’s not much suspense, nor are there any surprises in this conversation-dominated tale, but it’s enjoyable.

13.) “Tragic Heroines Tell All” – Lauren Henderson: Medea, Phaedra and Lady MacBeth appear on a tabloid daytime talk show. Hilarious, inspired (with some well-timed jabs at talk shows) and great. The ending’s weak, compared to the rest of the story, but this is still one of my favorite stories in this collection.

14.) “Necessary Women” – Karin Slaughter: Gripping, cliche-busting tale a young woman, her unhappy (now dead) mother, and her trucker father. Superb, this. Wish I’d written it.

15.) “Africa” – Jenny Siler: Concise tale about a woman (Neely) who avenges her lover’s murder. No surprises in this, but well-written.

16.) “Take, for Example, Meatpie” – Jen Banbury: A thirty-five year old woman seduces a sixteen-year old “loser” (according to his peers), part of her mysterious mobile mission. Promising start to this, but it loses focus, petering out into a lame ending. Good idea, lukewarm delivery.

17.) “Labia Lobelia” – Lisa Jewell: Lobelia, a large unconventionally beautiful woman, gets hilarious gross revenge on her rude male neighbors, with help from the ghosts of Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis (unconventional beauties themselves, by today’s standards). Judy Garland makes a brief appearance, too. Fresh, pseudo-nostalgic, sometimes crass (in a suitable, funny way) work; one of the best tales in this collection.

18.) “Pussy Galore” – Liz Evans: A PI (Grace Smith), trapped in a conversation with a bag lady in the London Underground, becomes caught up in a strange and unexpected mystery. Twisty, multilayered tale that comes together in a semi-disturbing, but satisfying fashion.

19.) “Martha Grace” – Stella Duffy: An older fat woman takes an arrogant young man as her lover. Sad, emotionally-involving work, with a good, if predictable, finish.

20.) “The Diary of Sue Peaner, Marooned! Contestant” – Sparkle Hayter: Fun, breezy reality-television tale, with a solid, not entirely unexpected, ending. Nothing special, but amusing.

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