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Hard Boiled Love: An Anthology of Noir Love

by Kerry Schooley and Peter Sellers, eds.

Hard Boiled Love, the follow-up to last year’s Iced anthology of noir fiction, gets off to a shaky start, but ends up succeeding on the strength of four or five solid tales and one unexpected classic. The collection only really fails when the stories descend to the low campiness of the femme-fatale cover, the lipstick kiss symbols on almost every page, and the unnecessarily overheated author bios.

Many of the 12 authors here are veterans of noir and detective fiction, and most show a command both of the subtle mechanics of storytelling and the particular nuances of the genre. Neither “Dead Wood” by Gregory Ward, “Buying the Farm” by John Swan, nor “Bottom Walker” by James Powell are particularly ambitious, but all three deliver solidly on their promises. You might not want to read them twice, but they are fun the first time around.

While the veterans contribute the most consistently solid stories of the anthology, the willingness of the editors to cast their noir-net widely results in Hard Boiled’s highest and lowest points, as it did in Iced. Stan Rogal continues his low-budget Bukowski act with the goofy “Lie to Me Baby.” Mike Barnes, a respected literary writer whose “The Stand-In” was perhaps the strongest story in Iced, contributes “Don and Ron,” which never really gets off the ground, despite being the longest of the anthology. Perhaps tautness is the soul of noir – newcomer Jean Rae Baxter’s “Loss” is a brief but creepily effective tale of cruel, calculated revenge.

The unexpected classic is Sinclair Ross’s “One’s a Heifer” – unexpected because of the shock of Prairie Gothic amid all this urban noir, classic because of Ross’s perfect control of language and plot. The story bristles with threatened violence and the particular madness brought on by isolation and the Canadian winter. The noir in Ross’s story (and the choice is brilliant on the part of the editors) refers not to a literary genre, but to one potential colour of the human heart.