This Noir Will Haunt You.

Santa Fe Noir

The Sangre de Christo mountains loom blood red above the city.

La Llorona, the killing ghost of Hispanic legend, haunts the arroyos.

The “Land of Enchantment” becomes the “Land of Entrapment.”

Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore, is perhaps one of my favorite noir collections from prolific Akashic Books. Noir is my favorite genre as it is honest in its depiction of the underrepresented and in telling stories that don’t glorify a culture of power. When I read noir, I expect a story of the underprivileged and displaced fighting against a power structure that’s impossible to conquer. As Ariel Gore says in her introduction, “Noir affirms our experience: Humans aren’t ethical. The good guys don’t win.”

The conquerors wrote the history of this area of New Mexico. Noir corrects those histories. Santa Fe might draw the mystics and new-age practitioners. It might scream health and vitality and beauty. But for those who have had their land, their culture, their very existence violently stolen from them, their stories are quite different. As Gore also states, “… noir speaks to the human consequences of external control and economic exploitation.” You find this is true in many of the classic noirs like the film Chinatown.

Here’s the other reason I love this anthology. In it, I found riveting voices, vivid descriptions of an unfamiliar dusty land, and characters who crept into my dreams.

In the first noir tale, “The Sandbox Story,” Candace Walsh captures the voice of a tough-talking therapist whose fixation on sex, the platypus, and a client lands her in trouble. Walsh vividly paints the conflicting elements of this Eldorado area. “Mountain ranges hug the town; some round like bellies and breasts, others crepuscular, jagged.” I held my breath, waiting for the story’s twist and the repercussions for this obsessed therapist. Both came with a bang.

Another favorite, Byron F. Aspaas’ “Táehii’ nii: Red Running into the Water” sucked me in with a lonely voice, a stranger with turquoise eyes, sex, murder, love, and anguish. It had it all. A native Dine’é man out of place in New York pines for love and his home on Pacheco Street. But his past there makes that a murderous impossibility.

In “The Night of the Flood,” author Ana June tells a tale of acid, lightning, fire, and rain. Katrina’s been at the blackjack table going on thirty-six hours. Her Aunt Mimi is dead and has left her something. She thinks she’ll be rich. She tells us about the summer she spent with her aunt at her “hippie, armpit-smelling house.” I knew then that this “inheritance” would not go well for her. What an understatement. While on an acid trip, she meets La Llorona, the legendary ghost who killed her children. As Katrina’s sister told her, “Don’t f_ _ _ with La Llorona, or she’ll f_ _ _ you right back.” Katrina should have listened. But then again, it was already too late.

One more favorite and this from Ariel Gore. Gore is one of my favorite writers. In “Nightshade,” Juliet, a murderer, is let out of prison to work on a farm. She falls for Molly who sells her prize tomatoes at the farmers market. Juliet speculates on prison life and the pagan women’s circle where she tried visualization. But her regard for all things “magic” is cynical. Her lust for Molly increases with Molly’s flirting. But Juliet begins to question why she, a murderer, is let out of prison on work detail at a farm when she never took part in the prison gardening program. By this time her tension matches mine.

I highly recommend this anthology. There’s a noir for every taste. Just don’t eat the tomatoes.

Thanks to Akashic Books for the advanced reader copy.


For those of you who love the behind-the-scene ways of the writer, check out my other blog GOBSMACKED WRITER. In the next week, I will be posting an inside look at how I choose and review books, where I start, what I look for, why I love it, and photos of my notes about the book along with marked-up pages. I also have other reviews on GOBSMACKED WRITER, some written before I started this blog.

Hope you join me! Val

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

Behind Every Lie

Christina McDonald follows up her novel The Night Olivia Fell with the suspenseful Behind Every Lie and proves that she can dig deep into the human psyche and give us another emotionally charged story about family secrets, lies, and survival.

In one of the alternating points of view, we witness a terrifying mother’s experience—the loss of a child. While the two mothers chat downstairs, one of their daughters plunges from a second-story window to her death. To give more away would demand spoilers, and I won’t do that to readers.

But the novel doesn’t begin there. At the start of the story, one of the narrators, Kat, awakens after being hit by lightning. She is covered in blood and believes she killed her mother.

How those two threads weave together is the strength of this novel. McDonald takes us in and out of possibilities leading up to a conclusion that makes perfect sense and will be guessed by a few devout “thriller” readers.

The story shows us how one decision can carry through many lifetimes, decisions that seemed right and necessary at the time, and even seemed the only way out for these two women. I felt the emotional impact of what faced these women and can relate to the choices they made. The tension builds as the decisions lead to even more danger. Not all is what it seems.

The novel is well-plotted and twisty, and in Hitchcockian style, we know more than Eva does from Kat’s storyline, giving us an inside track to what Eva is up against.

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I love how McDonald uses the Japanese repair method of kintsugi, the act of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer. Kintsugi shows off the scars of the mended broken pieces instead of trying to hide them, a wonderful way of making an analogy to Eva’s many physical scars and her broken psyche.

I gave this novel four stars because, although McDonald can write some beautiful and appropriate descriptions for the tone of the scenes, she also creates analogies that stop me from reading. They can be awkward and melodramatic, and because I can’t quote from and an advanced reader copy, I can’t give you examples. Also, she doesn’t need to tell us how a character feels after showing us with body language and dialogue. This may sound picky, but I wish she’d trust the reader more with this.

Thank you to Net Galley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review this advanced copy of Behind Every Lie.