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Iced: The New Noir Anthology of Cold, Hard Fiction

by Kerry J. Schooley and Peter Sellers, eds.

Despite their overheated introduction, in which they refer to Iced as “an Uzi in a literary hothouse,” editors Kerry J. Schooley and Peter Sellers understand that noir fiction, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. The best of these 16 stories by Canadian authors are cool, clever, and completely oblivious to the limits of the genre, while showing respect for its conventions.

William Bankier’s crisply-written “Her Voice on the Phone Was Magic” draws its protagonist to his fate with a delicious inevitability that is the very essence of noir. In “Avenging Miriam,” anthology co-editor Peter Sellers spins a black tale of a dispassionate killer hired to kill nine teenage killers in Vancouver. Sellers risks sensationalism in using elements of a recent, real-life incident, but his characters are cynical, not grotesque; the situation horrifying, not implausible.

This collection’s greatest strength is its editors’ willingness to include works and authors that fall outside the genre. This openminded approach results in the book’s most interesting inclusion, “The Stand-In,” by Mike Barnes, a Journey Prize nominee and author of the short-story collection, The Aquarium, from which this story was taken. To label “The Stand-In” noir is a stretch – the deaths are accidental and occur offstage – but the story has an unsettling darkness knit into its frozen, isolated setting and psychology. James Powell’s excellent “Winter Hiatus,” a dystopian vision of urban anarchy and public relations, is more speculative fiction than noir. The editors even include Crad Kilodney’s “Life Without Drama,” which manages to celebrate the genre even as it mocks its most tenacious clichés.

A few of the stories never quite get their hooks in, and the stories by Kevin Burton Smith and Matthew Firth are little more than bad-boy posturing, but the generally high quality here is such that even the outright duds are little more than momentary dips. Iced is the rare genre anthology that contains many rewards for non-devotees and, as such, should be an annual event.