Tampa Bay Noir
Edited by Colette Bancroft
All of the books in the Noir series follow the same formula. A group of writers with personal ties to a city contribute tales from the dark side. The mayhem occurs in specific parts of town, making place integral to the stories. I love the series because they explore interesting places from the shadowy nooks where the bad people are. I have a personal connection to this edition. Tampa Bay has been my home for over 30 years and I’ve seen editor, Colette Bancroft moderate discussion at book signing around town. She’s also the book editor for the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.
Tampa Bay Noir is divided into four sections: Suburb Sinister, Blood in the Water, Grifter’s Paradise and Family Secret. Each section has stories that follow those themes. I’m going to talk about my favorite story from each section to give an idea of what’s going on. If you read this collection, you may have other favorites.
In Suburb Sinister, I liked Lori Roy’s story “Chum in the Water.” Set in the ritzy, Tierra Verde development near the mouth of Tampa Bay, we’re introduced to a down on his luck real estate speculator who got caught with too many condos when the market tanked. Dale is a quick flip specialist, the kind whose speculation drives up prices. Roy let’s us watch Dales life fall apart even as he schemes to outsmart the loan shark who lent him money. Rather than pay off his debts, he gambles on hiring a hit man. One moral of this story, don’t try to hire hit men who were hired to take you out.
Blood in the Water’s stories are kind of like hallucinations induced by heat stroke. Sterling Watson’s story, “Extraordinary Things” is set in Pass-a-Grill, the southernmost village of Pinellas County’s barrier Islands. We meet Lee Taylor at the landmark Hurricane bar and grill. Lee is taking a chance meeting up with a woman he doesn’t really know. The story is a variation of a mistaken identity story and the long term repercussions of a chance meeting. This is a noir story, so you can guess that this blind date doesn’t go well for Lee.
Grifter’s Paradise is my favorite section in the collection. Ace Atkins turns in a story about a con man fleecing lonely women who are looking for love. “Midnight Preacher” explores the rotten underbelly of televangelism. My favorite story in Grifter’s Paradise is “Jackknife” by Danny Lopez. This story is set in Gibsonton back when it was still largely a community of carnival workers. The story revolves around ex-cop turned private eye, Wes who gets a call for help from an ex-lover as a hurricane is headed for landfall in Gibsonton. Wes drives into the path of the storm to rescue his ex, only to be frustrated when she insists they look for her current boyfriend. The hurricane hits, people go missing and we find out just how unreliable our narrator Wes is.
My pick from the Family Secrets section is Colette Bancroft’s story, “The Bite.” This story is set in the Rattlesnake neighborhood (which is the part of Tampa I live in). A 12 year old girl who’s trying to make sense of the strange neighbors across the street tells the story in first person. The neighbor’s father drives a fancy car and lives on base while his wife and children live off base in dire conditions. We see through her eyes that domestic violence isn’t always physical.
Being a local, it’s cool to read about locations and think, “I’ve been there.” Tampa has enough sordid and colorful history to deserve another volume. There is nothing set in Ybor City (but then Ace Atkins’, White Shadow and Dennis Lehane’s, Live By Night are set in Ybor City’s gangster past).