Kansas City Noir: Escaping to the Familiar

Kansas City Noir book

Kansas City Noir, edited by Steve Paul and published by Akashic Books

My birthday has come and gone and we are quickly heading into August, which means that beach and poolside insta photos are becoming far more frequent. For some reason as we get older, the appeal to actually get in the pool, goes down and the appeal to sunbathe near the pool with a good book goes up. Whether you’re sitting poolside at the neighborhood pool or oceanside on a summer vacay, sometimes it’s nice to view your hometown in a new way.

Kansas City Noir is a short story collection written by current and former Kansas City authors and edited by former KC Star page editor, Steve Paul. All fourteen stories take place around various parts of the city and at staggering points in time. While it may seem a little counter intuitive to read about your hometown while you’re on vacation, I found myself feeling very unfamiliar with the city itself. Yes, there are elements that are familiar and cause you to smirk with recognition at the similar-but-different dive bar, bar-b-que joint or notable local rap artist, but the seediness of the city is more reminiscent of a metropolis much larger than our own. Hence the “noir” element of the title.

The stories read with an anxious swiftness, reminiscent of a Bogey and McCall film, making for a quick read with convenient stopping points, should you decide to take a dip in the water or have to chase after the little ones. The collection is further broken down into three different sections: Heartland, Crazy Little Women and Smoke & Mirrors.


The first section of the collection is the most “midwest” of all the sections, meaning, all manner of things that typically happen in the midwest, and likely other parts of the country, take place in this section; a recovering addict who has lost custody of his son, a missing person, a drug overdose turned murder, a detective’s revenge and more. This section also diverts from the original layout of the city the least, which really causes the mind to wonder what matter of troubles your fellow Kansas Citian’s face everyday when they go home at the end of the day. What have they done? What are they going to do?

Crazy Little Women

This section title requires little explanation. This section is all about the femme fatales one can encounter in the most mundane corners of life. The stories tackle subjects such as abuse, repressed memory of a near miss with a child molester and a revenge plot after the death of a spouse. I would say this section of the collection is by far my favorite; the stories are very memorable, raw and touch on subjects that muddy the waters of the section title itself. Are these women crazy? Some of them, you might argue yes, while others, you are left to wonder if her “mania” is a symptom of her trauma. In any case, “Thelma and Laverne” by John Lutz is the best story, in my opinion. The ending is deliciously ambiguous, I had to reread the story and still couldn’t make up my mind about the ending.

Smoke & Mirrors

The final section of the book deals with deception, regarding the death of an indie movie theatre (not much different from the recent closing of the Tivoli theatre in Westport), a restaurant owner who seeks the help of a notable local rapper and other various mobster activities throughout. This section harkens the most to Kansas City’s past as a town where gangsters were the true politicians while, in some cases offering a modern take on original mobster racketeering.

Overall, I would say that Kansas City Noir is a solid, quick read, perfect for the summer season when everyone is trying to enjoy the weather and may be less interested in enjoying a good book. Once you’ve finished Kansas City Noir, you may be interested in reading other citys’ short story collections by Akashic Books, the publishing house behind the Noir Series. You can get your own copy of Kansas City Noir at your nearest bookstore or online. What books have you read so far this summer? Let me know in the comments! 🙂


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