Book Review: Houston Noir Anthology Explores H-Town Badness

H-Town badness gets the Akashic rundown in a criminally good anthology

<i>Houston Noir</i> Anthology Explores H-Town Badness

<i>Houston Noir</i> Anthology Explores H-Town Badness

Houston, that unforgiving sprawl of urban blight to the south and east of Austin, Texas, has no zoning laws. This is what renders the metropolis a crazy quilt of desecrated wilderness, metastasizing development, and industrial decay. But the reason for so many of that quilt's innumerable stains of blood, for the bright evidence of mayhem saturating its fabric of reality, is nothing less than human nature itself: What a collection of thieves and murderers, our species. What a sad array of moral degradation.

At least, those are the sorts of people you'll encounter in this Houston Noir anthology from Akashic Books. It's part of Akashic's ongoing series of location-specific crime anthologies, and the lives of the denizens of this particular volume are deeply informed by, and are tainted with, the crowded port city that the Astros call home. It's not all thieves and murderers, though, not all about moral degradation. There are shades of gray, of course. The ill-reasoned response to sociopolitical pressures or personal affront. Mitigating circumstances. Wrong place at the wrong time. You know how it can go, right?

But, yes, there's also a hell of a lot of treachery – and the kinds of cruelty that only Homo sapiens see fit to traffic in.

You want a private detective story in which the gumshoe's daily existence is magnitudes bleaker than anything Philip Marlowe had to contend with? Then you'll want to know what happens to alcoholic ex-cop Donovan Ainsworth when his shoddy methods of inquiry help convict a celebrity astronaut of adultery and murder in Larry Watts' "A Dark Universe." Or maybe you'll appreciate the somewhat lighter narrative of Robert Boswell's "The Use of Landscape," a tale that follows the larcenous, bantering, post-college trio of Tariq, Herta, and Cole as they scam a clique of rich kids and decide on killing one of them for continued monetary influx. And you'll consider anew how porous borders can be – borders between nations and borders between the living and the dead – when you follow the exploits of "Xitlali Zaragoza, Curandera" in Reyes Ramirez's demon-haunted part of this anthology.

Oh, there's a lot more to this gripping crowd of stories, and that crowd is peopled by a diversity of cultures and colors and genders and intents, as reported by Adrienne Perry, Wanjiku wa Ngugi, Tom Abrahams, and others. How, you might wonder, can one urban hub embody so much evil on a daily basis? Editor Gwendolyn Zepeda has cannily divided the collection into four separate areas of the city, which only serves to multiply a reader's certainty: Like the sodden sheet covering a much-lacerated corpse, all of Houston is pretty much dripping with crime. Best to experience it, we suggest, only between the covers of this new paperback.


Houston Noir

edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda
Akashic Books, 256 pp., $11.96

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More July Is Crime Month
Austin Author Chandler Baker Talks About Creating a Novel for the #MeToo Movement
Austin Author Chandler Baker Talks About Creating a Novel for the #MeToo Movement
Writer of Whisper Network offers a healthy dose of righteous indignation

M. Brianna Stallings, July 26, 2019

<i>Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee</i> by Casey Cep
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
Casey Cep solves the mystery of the true crime book that Harper Lee never wrote

Rosalind Faires, July 19, 2019

More crime fiction
<i>Lady in the Lake</i> by Laura Lippman
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Sixties Baltimore is unveiled in this new crime novel

Rosalind Faires, Jan. 3, 2020

<i>A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary</i> by Terry Shames
A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames
Police chief Samuel Craddock searches for a missing friend while on a visit to Jarrett Creek, Texas

Robert Faires, July 19, 2019

More Arts Reviews
<i>The Teacher</i> by Michal Ben-Naftali
The Teacher
This prize-winning novel's tale of a student piecing together the hidden life of her teacher, a Holocaust survivor who killed herself, is haunting

Jay Trachtenberg, Feb. 14, 2020

<i>The Dutch House</i> by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
In her eighth novel, Ann Patchett shows that what makes a family cannot be measured by the grandness of a house

Yvette Benavides, Oct. 4, 2019

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Drinking, Writing, Staying Sober
Drinking, Writing, Staying Sober
You can’t do all three at once, no, but check this out

April 3, 2020

The Hideout Theatre’s Virtual Threefer
The Hideout Theatre’s Virtual Threefer
Three troupes Zoomed and Twitched their time upon the improv stage

April 3, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

July Is Crime Month, crime fiction, Texas literature, Crime Month 2019, Gwendolyn Zepeda, Houston, Larry Watts, Raymond Boswell, Reyes Ramirez, Texas Book Festival 2019

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle