If you follow my reviews for any length of time, you already know I am a fan of the Akashic Noir series. Trinidad Noir: The Classics, their newest release, came out on Monday. Just as in every other Akashic Noir anthology, it will introduce you to a place that you won’t find in the travel books. Rougher than any Rough Guide, the Noir series introduces you to the sad places, the bad places, the places where people are often on the downside of power, on the no side of luck, and on the wrong side of the tracks. They are stories with heart and soul and struggle.
Trinidad Noir: The Classics contains 19 selection in four sections, Leaving Colonialism, Facing Independence, Looking In, and Losing Control. Like other Classics in the Noir series, the editors selected stories going back as far as 1927 to as recently as 2015. They include two poems in addition to the short stories.
People looking for more traditional noir mysteries will be disappointed. There’s violence, crime, murder, but not the sort of whodunnits that overflow most mystery anthologies. The closest thing to a mystery is The Dragonfly’s Tale by Sharon Millar that tells the story of a mother seeking her son who disappeared and the wife of a complicit bureaucrat who betrays her husband to help the mother find his body. Many of the stories involve magic traditions and folk spirits. Both the first and the last story feature supernatural answers to life’s challenges. There are stories of colonial bigotry, racism and classism. There’s also a lot of humor, sly tales of beggars, tricksters and cons. There’s one story, Hindsight, that is little more than an extended scatological joke.
This is a varied collection of stories and I enjoyed several of them. Even those that were less satisfying were good stories. Overall, though, the collection feels unbalanced. There’s too much of the trickster. Even The Bonnaire Silk Cotton Tree where there is a recitation of the many deaths and disappearance in the violence and the repression of that troubled island, the demon jumbie poses like a fashion model in a more humorous than frightening story even with the promise that all the dead from the first injustice to the wanton violence of today, from the indigenous slaughtered by colonialism, to the slaves, to those whose deaths come from poverty, theft, drugs, and all the other plagues, everyone who has never had justice would manifest for all to see. Theres is this flash of indignation, this demand for justice, but it is only a flash before the trickster is back. Then there is Hindsight, a slight, very short story that seems so much less than this anthology deserves, a self-effacing choice by editor Robert Antoni whose My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales offers several choices. In contrast, Earl Lovelace’s story Joebell and America was one of my favorites.
There is an incomplete quality to many of the stories. For example, The Party, creates a sense of menace and dread, everything is laid for disaster and tragedy, and is then suspended, the story ends. It sets the mood for a story that is never told. I really want the rest of that story.
This was one of the stranger collections in the Akashic Noir series. There’s more of the supernatural than usual. There is a lot of unseen, but deeply present, menace, powers that cannot be challenged and a sense that only humor keeps people from despair. With repressive government, murderous abusive police, corrupt businessmen with their private security, foreign investors, and criminal cartels, it seems that for most people, life is lived is in the margins, and they must laugh or die crying.
I was provided a promotional e-galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.