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‘Tampa Bay Noir’ anthology lets writers tell our story

The shady side of our place in the sun emerges in 15 new short stories by such writers as Michael Connelly, Lisa Unger, Tim Dorsey and more.

At last, the popular Akashic Noir series has adopted the Tampa Bay area.

In case you hadn’t heard, the series is a creation of Akashic Books, a New York publisher that launched Brooklyn Noir in 2004, short stories based in the borough by authors who had lived there.

In so doing, Akashic defied the conventional wisdom that “anthologies don’t sell.” Brooklyn Noir sold out its first two printings, and Akashic has since replicated the model in more than 100 cities worldwide, including every major American city and international cities from Addis Ababa to Zagreb.

Tampa Bay Noir, edited by Tampa Bay Times book editor Colette Bancroft, debuts Aug. 4. Its 15 authors include Michael Connelly, Lori Roy, Tim Dorsey, Sterling Watson, Lisa Unger, Sarah Gerard, Ladee Hubbard and Ace Atkins, as well as other distinguished or up-and-coming authors, all of whom have lived in the area.

Impressive as this list is, the most important decision in creating each anthology is the location itself. “The authors are what make the series great, but we chose the cities first,” Akashic founder Johnny Temple said in 2018.

Going with a noir tone keeps the guidelines reasonably fresh and interesting — fallible heroes, moral ambiguities, sex and violence have served fiction pretty well — while letting each writer determine what noir means.

The notion of elevating place to the status of a character in a story, a frequent topic in writers workshops, works to maximum effect. The descriptive forays are full of observations that can only be gleaned by living here.

In Jacknife, about a man’s rescue mission of an ex-girlfriend he still craves as a Category 4 hurricane makes landfall, Danny Lopez (a.k.a. Philippe Diederich) notes:

Road signs trembled, trees and bushes danced back and forth, debris dragged across the road, the rain fell in torrents, washing across the road in waves, then dying down, only to start again.

Lori Roy sets Chum in the Water, about a man who is avoiding a loan shark, in a Tierra Verde neighborhood, including a boardwalk behind Smugglers bar:

He draws in a deep breath. Island air. It’s salty and heavy, tinted with the smell of fish, too thick to go down easy.

Pablo Escobar, Yuly Restrepo Garcés’ story about a family adjusting to a bare apartment in Largo two weeks after leaving Colombia, mentions the August air that “made my hair stick to the back of my neck and my clothes feel heavy, as if I’d been swimming in them.”

Former Tampa Tribune reporter Dorsey works in shots at his old newspaper and at tourists at the Florida welcome center: “Outside restrooms, a restless crowd gathered in front of an eight-foot laminated map of Florida, unable to accept that they were still hundreds of miles from the nearest theme park.”

Bancroft herself turns in a witty and ominous tale, The Bite, set in the Tampa neighborhood in which she grew up, Rattlesnake. Aside from supplying a metaphor for the activity in a neighbor’s home, the neighborhood’s name alludes to the narrator’s mother, a woman known both for fastidiousness in her dress and an unmatched ability to behead rattlers with a shovel.

These kinds of observations don’t come cheap. As Lisa Unger puts it in the ruminative Only You, an exquisite story about wealth and class and heartbreak in Clearwater Beach:

No matter where I go in the world — isn’t it odd? I always want to come back here and feel that humid salt air on my skin, watch the palms sway. Florida is the butt of a national joke, ripped to shreds by the intellectual elite. But those of us who really know it, we keep the secret of its savage beauty.

Why is this series popular? It might be because readers will find themselves in its pages. Most of Ladee Hubbard’s It’s Not Locked Because It Don’t Lock, which successfully floats subjects of homophobia and murder on a cushion of dialogue between young men, takes place near Atwater’s Soul Food restaurant. Thousands of longtime St. Petersburg residents have at least driven by the place.

The table of contents notes locations for each story with the terminology locals use: not U.S. 19 but 34th Street, Lake Maggiore, Westshore, and so on. Geographically, you’ll see pieces from Safety Harbor to St. Petersburg, Davis Islands to Gibsonton. Stories also break down into four categories: Suburb Sinister, Blood in the Water, Grifters’ Paradise and Family Secrets. It’s a kind of sardonic wink and a reminder that, good literature notwithstanding, it’s okay to maintain a playful distance from the subject matter.

The volume’s first story, The Guardian, brings Connelly’s veteran former LAPD detective, Harry Bosch, to Hyde Park to help out an artist who is a former girlfriend. Connelly keeps you guessing all the way to the end. Toward the close, there’s a shift in tone as the brass-tacks narrative of the detective’s thoughts in solving a case relax with the character. There’s a mention of driving down Bayshore Boulevard when the “sun was going down and the sky was orange and blue over the bay.”

That’s what sunsets bring, especially here. They bring resolution.

Tampa Bay Noir

Edited by Colette Bancroft

Stories by Michael Connelly, Lori Roy, Karen Brown, Tim Dorsey, Lisa Unger, Sterling Watson, Luis Castillo, Ace Atkins, Sarah Gerard, Danny López, Ladee Hubbard, Gale Massey, Yuly Restrepo Garcés, Eliot Schrefer and Colette Bancroft

Akashic Books, 299 pages, $16.95

Meet the authors

Tombolo Books will present a virtual book launch of Tampa Bay Noir with contributors Colette Bancroft, Gale Massey, Lisa Unger and Sterling Watson at 7 p.m. Aug. 4. Register for the event to receive a link to the panel discussion

Oxford Exchange will present a virtual event with Tampa Bay Noir contributors Bancroft, Tim Dorsey, Lori Roy and Eliot Schrefer at 2 p.m. Aug. 9. Register for the event to receive a link to the panel discussion.

Tampa Bay Noir and many of its contributors will be featured at the 2020 Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading Nov. 12-14.

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