Recently published by Perfect Crime Books, Noir 13 collects thirteen stories by Ed Gorman, and there isn’t a bad story in the bunch. Delicately crafted and emotionally perceptive, these stories capture the best qualities of Gorman’s prose. A desolate spirit pervades the book, as does Gorman’s characteristic unflinching but empathetic eye for human tragedy, folly, and misery. The stories aren’t without humor, and the occasional, fleeting platonic warmth shared between two characters, but on the whole these stories pack an even bleaker wallop than some of Gorman’s full-length novels.
Never one to confine himself to a single genre, Gorman opens with a daring, unexpected choice. “The Baby Store” is a distopic science-fiction tale about the emotional and psychological weight of a child’s death in a world in which children can be customized and made-to-order. It may be set in the future, but the reality is wholly recognizable, and the parents’ trauma relatable.
“A Little Something to Believe In,” co-written with Larry Segriff, follows two lost kids whose belief in a fantastic, alternate existence is the only hope in their day-to-day lives. The conclusion offers a chilling twist to the title, making it one of the coldest stories in the collection. Contrasting this is “Flying Solo,” about two geezer vigilantes who use their last days alive to right the wrongs they see around them. It’s a touching relationship, and a moving reflection on mortality and the necessity of human connection, two of Gorman’s most important themes that he returns to time and again.
In “The Long Way Back,” Gorman revisits another important theme in his work: a man who seeks atonement for failing his family in the past. In this story, successful businessman Giff Bryant returns to his hometown to try and help his alcoholic brother and his struggling family. It’s a beautiful but haunting story, words that could describe many of the stories in this collection. Another standout is “That Day at Eagle’s Point,” which chronicles the life-long tension between childhood friends – two boys in love with the same girl – that culminates in an event as ironic as it is tragic.
Closing the collection is one of the best, “Such a Good Girl,” another title that is given a dark twist by a shocking conclusion. This one is about a daughter who sacrifices everything for her cocaine-addicted mother. Here, Gorman shows that the darkest aspects of noir have nothing to do with trenchcoats and fedoras, and that the worst crimes are committed within the home by those closest to you. It’s heartbreaking and all-too believable.
As despondent as the stories may be, I’d rather end this review on one of the more hopeful notes in the collection. It is a quote from “Flying Solo” that says a lot about Gorman’s insight and his faith in people’s good nature
“There isn’t much to say when you get to this point. You just hope for as much decent time as you can get and if you’ve been helping people here and there you go right on helping them as long as you can.”
Noir 13 is available here from Perfect Crime Books.