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If there is a minor complaint I sometimes have with the Akashic noir series is the interest in "literary merit" at times pushes the meat-and-potatoes noir to the back seat. By gathering diverse writers, many who have never written crime fiction before, they have pushed the boundaries of noir in great ways, but I sometimes wish there were more stories with the tropes that drew me to the genre in the first place. Like a modern jazz musician, the editors are tasked with reaching for innovation without arresting tradition. James Grady and Kier Graff and their find this balance with Montana Noir.

This is apparent in the first story "Red, White, and Butte." David Abrahams follows an Iraq war vet scheming at a Fourth Of July celebration also serves to honor its fallen local hero he served with. The cynicism set against the Americana setting, reminded me of the Billy Wilder film Ace In The Hole.

Many of the authors tap into the noir idea of escape with that big sky being oppressive to some. In "Fireweed" Janet Skesliems Charlse's Farm Country waitress experiences a coming of age in a murder mystery that unfolds mainly in the microcosm of the diner she works in. A young cattle inseminator sees his chance to break free, ironically when he is taken hostage in Thomas McGuane's "Motherlode."

Some of the protagonists plot for hard won justice. A Flat Head criminal commits a few questionable action for the woman he has a crush on in Debra Magpie Earling's "Custer's Last Stand." Jamie Ford's "Dive" has a fighter who has experienced many forms of defeat return to her Glendive home to set things right with her stepfather.

Humor runs through many of the stories. One of the funniest, "Oasis," concerns a delivery man for Billings worst pizzeria searching for a co-worker. Gwen Florio takes black comic jabs at the Missoula literati and college scene in "Trailer Trash."

Many of the characters in Montana Noir find humor in their situations, whether laughing at fate or finding it the only refuge. While these authors question the society of their state, all respect its people. All are quintessential noir heroes, survivors even in death.

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