Montana Noir is the newest anthology joining the outstanding Akashic Noir series. Edited by James Grady and Keir Graff, it includes fourteen stories from all over Montana. It is organized into four sections that are united by their history. Copper Power features stories in Butte, Helena, and Great Falls, the centers of the mining industry. The Hi-Line follows Highway 2 through the rolling prairies and the “Big Sky”, Custer Country ranges from Billings to the southeastern border near the Bakken, and Rivers Run takes place in the mountainous beautiful range along the Continental Divide.

Montana is home to seven reservations and several Indian tribes. Montana is also home to pivotal moments in the Indians Wars, the absolute defeat of General Custer and the surrender of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Montana weaves together many threads of the West’s history, a gold rush, cattle-ranching, sheepherding, extraction industry, tourism industry, Indian wars and oppression, natural beauty and aridity. That gives this anthology a more universally Western aesthetic.

One of my favorite stories is Custer’s Last Stand by Debra Magpie Earling. Custer’s Last Stand is a burger joint along the Flathead Lake, nowhere near Custer Country, but there is a “Custer” of sorts, the racist local sheriff who owns the stand and who abuses his power and yes, he meets his “Sitting Bull” in a satisfying confrontation. I also loved Trailer Trash, a story that made me laugh with its send-up of academic writing groups where the narrator’s factual descriptions of his neighbors are dismissed as cliched.

This is an excellent collection of noir stories. Noir is not just about mystery and suspense. Noir is living on the edge, transgressing the boundaries, and surviving on the downside of power. Noir is desperate striving, scrabbling for purchase in a society that leaves too many behind. Noir is seeking escape from the world that is indifferent and hostile. There is all of that. Many of the protagonists are on the wrong side of the law, looking for money in all the wrong places. Still, the most disturbing story is Bad Blood by Carrie Le Seur following a lawyer representing various Native Americans who are filing suit for land stolen whose deeds are disputed and missing. The lawyer surprises us in the end, but perhaps it is our naivete that makes the story so shocking.

I love the Akashic Noir series and Montana Noir is one of the best in the series. The stories are fast-paced, suspenseful, and capture the essence of Montana. I loved this edition. It is less experimental than others in the series such as Brussels Noir and that is probably one reason I like it so much. I think you can’t go wrong with the Akashic Noir series and it is a far more interesting form of armchair traveling than the hyper-privileged one-upmanship travels of Condé Nast Traveler.

Montana Noir will be released September 5th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

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