Sunshine Noir is a new short crime story collection from the editorial team of Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley. The editors have compiled these stories as a pointed response to the current flood of Scandinavian crime fiction saturating the market. Alfieri and Stanley argue in their introduction that crime fiction is not only of the cold environs but that, “The shadows are darkest where the sun is brightest.”
Sunshine Noir is made of 17 stories that range the globe and are pulled from places where the sun scorches. The collection is a mixed bag, some stories outweighing others, but the book as a whole does not disappoint and is a good introduction to some talented writers.
Robert Wilson’s Extreme Heat opens the collection. The story takes place in the northern Sahara. Good paragraphs of quick detail make for a compelling backstory. The narrator is Johnny Sparks a man left to die in the desert in a stolen Mercedes by a roving band of car thieves that he was previously a part of. The story is a gruesome, hard-hitting, bloody tale. The walkabout desperation of the endless desert makes this take eerie and sends a warm chill up the spine.
The second story, Blue Nile by Paul Hardisty, is a standout in the collection. It follows an engineer who has traveled to Africa to fix an important dam as a local war is about to erupt. The young engineer converses in a hut at the start of the story with a gun-toting man named Teferi. We learn that Teferi is kindhearted as he protectively guides the engineer through the tumult as invading rebels move towards them. Hardisty’s writing is tight and his pacing makes for a compelling story. The narrator conveys the sense of stuck in this the ‘fever continent’ of Africa, which creates great tension in this taut tale. We are shown a place radiating with the “desperate… transpired humidity of a thousand days without rain.” The story is a race against time to escape before all hell breaks loose that is touching, literary, and gripping.
The Woman of His Heart by Nick Sweet is a fun tale following detective Jefe Velazquez out into a muggy Seville to solve an interconnected set of murders. Sweet’s story is Elmore Leonard-like pulpy fun. The detective drives an Alfa Romeo and wears a leather coat. The death of a local, a Russian, and the contents of an explicit DVD tie the tale together and it comes to a satisfying conclusion.
The Assassination by Leye Adenle tries to use short punchy sections to deliver a story about an assassination attempt and doesn’t quite pull it off. The dialogue in the story is clunky and it makes this short tale hard to follow. Killing and assassination stories consume a lot of the plots in Sunshine Noir and these get a bit tiresome. The trope works but isn’t as interesting when compared with some of the other more nuanced stories here.
The Sultan Rules Mombasa, by editor Alfieri, is one story from this collection that should not be missed. The sophisticated period piece is set in British East Africa at the start of the 20th century. Alfieri’s story follows the protagonist Vera McIntosh, the central character in her Vera and Tolliver series, as she helps Molly Peel track down her sister Virginia who has gone missing. A wonderful introduction to the writer’s Vera and Tolliver series.
The editor Michael Stanley’s Spirits is another strong piece. It features constable Ixau as he pieces together a mystery that he comes to when a man gives him a message. The question of whether the man is either experiencing a drug-induced vision or a spirit inhabiting his body to deliver this message becomes drive the tension in the story. The supernatural quality adds a haunting intrigue, while Stanley’s characterisation makes for an interesting protagonist in Ixau.
The 17 stories in Sunshine Noir are a good introduction to some emerging voices as well as some more established writers. Many of them show writers who are coming into the form. The writing can be rough at times, but there are quite a fews gems that make this worthwhile. Overall, Sunshine Noir is a solid collection and will satisfy readers looking to thaw out from an overindulgence of Nordic crime. If you enjoy new voices, crime stories that take places in exotic lands, grab it. It’s a must-read for collectors of short form crime fiction as well.
White Sun Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars