Prague Noir is the most recent release in what is without question the best anthology series of mystery short stories. I love and respect “Best American” but the novelty of touring the world through noir is ingenious and irresistible. Prague Noir whisks us off to the capital of the Czech Republic, a country that has seen more than its share of turmoil. Because it was a police state for much of the golden age of noir, there were no private detectives or any of the other hallmarks of the noir tradition. Of course, as the series editor Pavel Mandys points out, Scandinavian noir is a huge success despite the low murder rate of the Nordic nations. His introduction does a great job of providing context for the stories.
There are fourteen stories in Prague Noir divided into four parts. The first part, Sharp Lads is right in the world of crime. Magical Prague connects us to historical Prague along with a bit of the paranormal. “Marl Circle” is an out and out horror story, while “The Cabinet of Seven Pierced Books” reminded me of early detective stories. The third section, Shadows of the Past, included some of my favorite stories, including “The Life and Work of Baroness Mautnic” and “All the Old Disguises” that is as perfectly noir as noir can be. I also liked the third story in this section, a retiring detective recounting the story of how a Paul McCartney album helped solve a murder. The last section, Jeopardy, has some story that are just achingly human. A man’s loving toleration for his sister becomes his saving grace in “Better Life” and then in “Epiphany” we have the heartbreaking story of a man so self-effacing, he wishes to kill himself in order not to kill his wife.
I enjoyed Prague Noir very much. Of course, I confess that I am biased. I love mysteries, I love short stories, I love anthologies, and I love armchair travel, and I love how this series combines them all. This was an excellent collection, though, stretching the definition of noir a bit, but never too far. It was interesting to have another window into Czech society in addition to the fine literature and poetry that have been translated. If you like noir, you will love this book.
I received an e-galley of Prague Noir from the publisher through Edelweiss.