Short Stories – Richmond Noir

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Richmond Noir – edited by Andrew Blosson, Brian Castleberry and Tom De Haven (2010) – This is a wonderful collection of short stories done in the noir style.  As Tom Robbins (author of among others “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”.  Robbins grew up in Richmond and has a story in the collection) says in his foreword, when he thinks of Richmond he thinks of alleys.  “…my memories of Richmond’s noir.  Which is to say, colored with seamy urban romance and suave big-city vice, the twin elements most responsible for the seductive throb at the murky heart of noir“.

The stories feature well-known locations in Richmond, Hollywood Cemetery, Belle Isle, Church Hill, Shockoe Slip, Jackson Ward, the West End and more.  They are then broken down into four categories – Nevermore, Numbers, Neurosis and Nonsuch.  While a relatively small city (the greater Richmond population is around a million souls), the authors realize that it offers a rich lode of concepts, history, and people for their creative exercise.  State Capitol, the heart of rebellions of both white and black residents, with plenty of anger, angst and the kind of political chicanery that would do Chinatown proud, this is Richmond.

The stories (with the part of the city they’re set in):

  • The Rose Red Vial (Museum District) Pir Rothenberg
  • Homework (East End)  David L. Robbins
  • Gaia (Providence Park) Mina Beverly
  • Texas Beach (Texas Beach) Dennis Danvers
  • The Battle of Belle Isle (Belle Isle) Clay McLeod Chapman
  • A Late-Night Fishing Trip (Oregon Hill) X.C. Atkins
  • The Heart is a Strange Muscle (Church Hill) Laura Browder
  • The Fall Lines (Shockoe Slip) Dean King
  • Playing with DaBlonde (Manchester)Tom De Haven
  • Midnight at the Oasis (Jefferson Davis Highway) Anne Thomas Soffee
  • Untitled (Jackson Ward) Meagan J. Saunders
  • Marco’s Broken English (West End) Conrad Ashley Persons
  • The Thirteenth Floor (Monroe Park) Howard Owen
  • Mr. Not (Devil’s Half Acre) Hermine Pinson
  • The Apprentice (Hollywood Cemetery) Clint McCown

All of the stories are amazing.  A couple really stood out for me:

  • Untitled by Meagan Saunders – I think any creative person would understand the struggle to push past our demons and create.
  • The Thirteenth Floor by Howard Owen – A classic noir mystery set in a classic building in Richmond.
  • The Red Vial by Pir Rothenberg – Had to have a Poe connection somewhere and I can’t resist the story.
  • The Battle of Belle Isle – Clay McLeod Chapman – The James River figures in several of the stories.  This one is a tale of love and dedication in the midst of loss.

Honestly, there is not a weak story in the bunch.  Richmond deserves no less.  There are collections for a wide range of other cities including both Pittsburgh and Buffalo, so I’ll have to track those down.

If you’ve never been to Richmond this book could serve as an interesting introduction to the city.  If you know RVA you’ll love the local feel.  And if you’re a fan of noir, this is a great addition to your library.


Writing – The Books Of My Childhood

The first books I remember reading were The Bobbsey Twins. I have no idea why I got started with these stories of English children. My parents are gone so I can’t ask them. But the memory is clear. The adventures of children with whom I have almost nothing in common were a staple of my reading.

The Bobbsey Twins were actually two sets of fraternal twins, Nan and Bert and their younger siblings, Freddie and Flossie.  The first story was written in 1904 and new stories continued till 1979.  The family would explore different places and portions of the lives of an upper middle-class family.  There was a mom, a dad, a cook, a handyman, two dogs, a cat, and a duck.  Quite the fun group.

The Bobbsey Twin stories along with the next two entries on my list are all creations of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. While credited to a single author, the name was a pseudonym for teams of writers who cranked out adventure after adventure for a range of book series.  I owe a great deal to those unknown writers.

The twins were followed by the books that launched my love of mysteries and science fiction. Both the Hardy Boys mystery series and the adventures of Tom Swift books arrived in the mail, two slim volumes at a time. I read them again and again. Tom Swift arrived later, around the time that I was ready to move on to the next phase of my reading life.

The titles I remember next were “Ben and Me” by Robert Lawson, the story of a mouse who makes friends with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Amos would ride along in Franklin’s hat and share his adventures. As much as anything, that book probably helped launch my love of history. It’s a simple, child’s view of history, but it caught my attention.

The other was “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. The story of a 14-year-old boy who runs away from his crowded family apartment in NYC. It’s a wonderful adventure story of courage and using your brains to survive. I read the book several times. It also introduced me to the disappointment of a beloved book translated to the big screen. The movie version is a vast disappointment.

IIf Tom Swift introduced me to science fiction, then the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher sealed the deal. I discovered these in junior high school, so they are, in many ways, the last books of childhood. Whereas Tom Swift was just the Hardy Boys in space, these books took me to a post-apocalyptic world that was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. They changed my reading patterns forever.

From that beginning began a lifetime of reading.  I continue to explore the genres I found at the beginning, but I am also always looking for something new to try.

Nan and Bert, I believe. If memory serves Flossie had blonde curls.



A Life In Faith – Make a Joyful Noise

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.

Psalm 98:4-9  (NRSV)

This is one of my favorite “rattle their cages”, iconoclastic, push back against tradition, rigor mortis passages from Scripture.

Bet you never thought of it that way, did you?

I come from a tradition with a love of doing worship well. Since how we worship is central to how we define ourselves, I understand. But it’s a short step to carving everything in stone and maintaining that nothing is allowed to change. We’re not alone in that, we’re not the worst about it either. There is a false security in proclaiming that we have perfected worship or theology or whatever. It’s the source of the “Frozen Chosen” vs “Happy Clappy” nonsense. It’s wrong and we need to stop.

Which brings us to Psalm 98:4

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice…:

It goes on to describe everything from music to the roaring of the sea. All of it is placed in the frame of joy. Not beauty or perfection, not classical forms or tradition. It says to make a noise. A loud noise, no less. Most of the churches I grew up in would have looked askance at making loud noises. As a child, I was largely discouraged from making any noise. It’s one reason why churches seem to be so uptight. Orderly, yes. Joyful noise? Not so much.

I’m not advocating for chaotic noise. The passage is clear. The noise is to be joyful and directed at God. That provides a lot of room to shake the dust off the cage bars. It’s an opportunity for some improvisation and spontaneity. There might even be an occasional surprise. The church could use all of the above.

At my current church home, there’s one section of the worship that has become the de facto “families with small children zone”. It’s something that came into existence spontaneously, I’m told. And it’s known for the joyful noises that sometimes erupt there. Giggles and shouts of joy that are just part of our worship. As they should be.

For adults and children, that freedom should be part of worship. And it should always be welcome. Stop worrying about “getting it right.”

Make a joyful noise.

Photo by Hangchen Li

This is a personal favorite and expresses my idea of all the world making a joyful noise.




Writing – Of Rain and Poetry

With all the prose writing I do, I also do a bit of poetry.  At least, I think of this as poetry.  Seems like a good time to share it here.


I do not know the word

For the smell.

It is the smell of rain,

Rain on the hot pavement of summer.

You can smell it now, can’t you?

I want to call it “flinty”

because it reminds me of stone.

The stone of the roads of my youth.

Stone and tar roads, hot and sticky.

The rain would fall

And I would smell that smell.

Decades later and the smell is still here.

It takes me back to that other place.

The smell brings me peace.

It is the fragrance of memory.

I didn’t know there was a word for that smell.  Of course, there is!  Petrichor is that smell associated rain on pavement after a long dry spell.

What I’m Reading – The Dim Sum of All Fears

The Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien (2018) – Lana Lee works in her family’s restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodles.  It’s a boring life that she would really love to put behind her.  Unfortunately, she has to turn down her big break when her parents go to care for her grandmother on the other side of the planet.  While they’re gone, one of Lana’s best friends is murdered right next door. Now she has to figure out the secrets behind it all.  The second book in the Noodle Shop Mysteries series.

This is a lot of fun little mystery.  There are a lot of parallels with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.  But they are mostly superficial, which allows Chien to bring a very different cultural setting to the stories.  Lana has family issues that include a “perfect” sister and a mom who knows exactly what Lana needs to do with her life.  Add in a kinda-sorta police detective boyfriend all of it seasoned with Chinese spices and you get a winning combination.

For the second time in a year, Asia Village, the small shopping center that is home to Ho-Lee Noodles, is the scene of a murder.  The owners of the gift shop next door are found dead in the store.  Lana and Isabelle had discovered that they had a lot in common and a friendship had sprung up between them.  After Isabelle and her husband are killed, Lana begins to discover that there were many mysteries that surround her friend.  All she has to do is figure out which one killed the couple.

I will admit that the title is the primary reason I grabbed this book.  I haven’t read the first book in the series, “Death by Dumpling”, but I was in the mood for a mystery.  My first thought was the Tom Clancy novel with a similar title, and it rang a distant bell as a quote (turns out to be from Churchill).  Anyone cheeky enough to try that title on for size deserved a shot!  Chien writes with a real affection for her hometown of Cleveland and that appeals to me as well.  All stories do not need to be set in NYC, LA, Chicago or Miami.  It turned out to be a lucky choice.

“The Dim Sum of All Fears” is brand new on the bookshelves! (Debuted August 28)

Why You Will Like It: Fun characters and an engaging mystery to solve.  You will enjoy trying to piece it all together while enjoying a trip into a culture a little different from most of ours.

Rating – **** Recommended

Coming Soon – What I’m Reading

Making a change in some of my blogging.  Since this is the blog that is mostly focused on things book-ish, I’ve decided to move my book reviews over here from The View From The Phlipside.

(You didn’t know I write more than one blog?  TVFTP is focused on the wider world of media and is based on my radio program of the same name.  Bounce over to check out the podcast, movie reviews, the “From My Shelves” monthly series and coming soon, a new podcast about movies!).

The reviews will fall under the title of “What I’m Reading”.  What I try to do is alternate between new titles and classic books.  If you want to see what I’ve already reviewed go HERE

This will add to the ongoing series on Short Stories.