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Kingston Noir - The Dark Side of the Sun

Kingston Noir

It is said that you should never judge a book by its cover, but Kingston Noir is one of those books that you can’t help but judge by the cover that adorns this collection of stories. The cover featuring a dreadlocked biker and a pillion rider bedecked in shorts, stilettos and fishnet stockings whispers of heat, sex and secrets. Of course, as it is noir fiction there is also death, but that comes after you get between the covers.

Kingston Noir, edited by Colin Channer, is a part of the Akashic Books noir series. The series has featured cities across the world and Kingston Noir represented their fourth journey into the Caribbean. Havana Noir, Haiti Noir and Trinidad Noir have preceded this book.

The anthology features stories by eleven writers including Channer, Kwame Dawes, Kei Miller, Marlon James, Marcia Douglas, Thomas Glave, and Chris Abani. Most of these writers are Jamaican by birth or some other fiction, but not all.

In his introduction Channer explains that while many anthology editors plan the collection as a kind of "potluck dinner" derived from general calls for writers, he decided to go a different route. According to Channer, this general call tends to lead to a dining experience featuring dishes that are great, awful and in the main so-so. His method of carefully selecting the writers he asked to submit works doesn't completely avoid this, but he has proffered up a great literary feast.

The buffet of stories Channer serves up range from great stirring tales to the so-so. Like any good buffet, there are stories you'll want to come back to over and again, but others that you would rather not repeat, even if they went down well enough. The stories in Kingston Noir are separated into three segments which in true Channer style are evocative of reggae songs: Hard Road to Travel, Is This Love and Pressure Drop.

Dawes' 'My Lord' opens the collection, and it's a good choice to get it going. ‘My Lord’ is in the segment titled Hard Road to Travel. These stories are about the decisions people make that lead them to the paths on which we find them. Though the concept of the Jamaican private detective is a little unfamiliar, at least to me, the story works well as Dawes crafts his story with a sure-handed narrative style that is engaging.

With several of the stories, you never know exactly where they will lead, and often it's an intriguing turn. Marlon James employs a disjointed narrative style that is particularly striking as he unravels a story that makes you laugh, intrigues you and repels you all at the same time. His short story, ‘Immaculate’ chronicles the fate of a young girl who turns up dead at a busstop.  

Kei Miller's intriguingly named ‘The White Gyal With the Camera’, Leone Ross' ‘Roll It’, Thomas Glave's 'Leighton Leigh Anne Norbrook' and Chris Abani’s ‘Sunrise’  are easily the most exciting stories in the collection.

The tales are diverse and generally undertake daring narratives that allows Jamaica to go well beyond its stereotype of sun, sand and reggae. Of course there is reggae as the tales are often written with a pulsating rhythm that skanks across the page, and Channer’s ‘Monkey Man’ is a bit of Reggae fiction. However, ‘The White Gyal With the Camera’ and ‘One-Girl Half Way Tree Concert’ move to rhythms that are far older.

Kingston Noir is a fascinating look at the streets of Kingston through lens not often seen in fiction from the region. You could call them refreshing, if they didn’t have a tendency to make you gasp, and so that word fails them. The stories go across the breadth of the city, and its environs, cutting through class boundaries and showing the nexus between sexual and class prejudices. Their characters are generous in their complexity and they explore corruption, love, loss, betrayal and the ties that bind people together and tear them apart.  

The stories you will find in Kingston Noir are often dark, sexy, and disturbing. Read with caution.

Title: Kingston Noir

Publisher: Akashic Books