Prison Noir edited by Joyce Carol Oates

I have read several of these Noir books and I love them. All credit to my friend and author Curt Colbert who introduced me to the series when he was editing and writing a story for “Seattle Noir.” We spent a whole evening at a Seahawks game discussing the series and from there, I was hooked.
This is the fourth or fifth Noir book I have read and reviewed.

While many of the books in the series focus on a city, this one focuses on a community. Prisons are very much like a small town with all of the scandal, personalities and intrigues. The backdrop can be quite tragic but there can also be a lot of humor in the day to day that help people cope.

Each of the stories is written by a prisoner, male or female, in a correctional institution. Some are in Federal prisons and some are in state prisons. The amount of time that they are doing varies from a number of years to life. Many have included their former incarnations as white collar workers, tv producers, wives, fathers and career criminals.

The book is divided into three sections: Ghosts in the Machine, Caged Birds Sing and I Saw the Whole Thing, It was Horrible. There are five stories within each of these sections.

From Section One, my favorites are as follows: “Shuffle” which speaks to the prison experience of living in segregation; “Bardos” which is a clever depiction of the day to day routine; and “A Message in the Breath of Allah” which is a meditation on death.

In section Two I was partial to: “Foxhole” which was about the personalities that populate a prison as well as being from the perspective of a Native American and “Immigrant Song” which was about a young Mexican man who did not understand the situation in which he had found himself. The rest of the stories are strong too, these were just my favorites.

Section Three favorites were: “Angel Eyes” which is about the hardening a person can experience. The brutalization that can occur as a person loses hope; “How EBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway” which is a very thinly veiled story about serial killer Gary Ridgeway; and 3 Block from Hell” which I am not telling you anything about it because it would ruin the whole story.

These Noir books are some of the best edited anthologies I have had the pleasure to read. This one is no exception. Five stars. You will not be disappointed.

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