William Dylan Powell, winner of the 2007 Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for Best First Short Story, is a Houston-based freelance writer. He is a member of the Houston Press Club, the American Marketing Association and the Texas Writer’s League. He is the author or co-author of a half-dozen books, including Houston Then and Now. He’s a regular contributor to the Houston Chronicle. Outside of the publishing, marketing and public relations worlds, he is a writer of mystery fiction, a black belt, a licensed bartender, a big fan of piano jazz and quite possibly the world’s worst golfer.
THE DARKER SIDE OF THE FAIRER SEX
by William Dylan Powell
The late Canadian politician Charlotte Whitton once famously quipped that “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Reading A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, proves this holds true not just for professional accomplishments but also for murder and mischief.
Edited by Edgar Award nominee Megan Abbott, and published by Busted Flush Press, A Hell of a Woman showcases over 20 boffo short stories of “lonely housewives, diner waitresses yearning for more, schoolgirls with dangerous ambitions, hustlers looking for one last score … ” and a host of other ladies of the noir.
This is a great collection, chosen with high standards of writing and suspense. It pulls from crackling talent like Ken Bruen, Rebecca Pawel and Sara Weinman — dozens of accomplished writers whose prose cuts like a switchblade to reveal the dark underbelly of society we all love to watch (from a distance).
While the dead bodies proliferate, there’s no deadwood to be found in these pages. Every story blows up on the page. Zoë Sharp’s “Served Cold,” which anchors the anthology’s title, is a brass knuckle example of hard-hitting noir revenge that will make me look twice, respectfully, at the next waitress who offers me smoked salmon and kobe beef at a cocktail party.
The story’s central character, Layla, is a bad girl with a hard upbringing. You may cringe at Layla’s decisions, but you get her behavior. Not just another waitress — right out of the gate you know something’s up: “Layla didn’t care about the tips. That wasn’t why she was here, anyhow.”
Zoë Sharp, well known for her successful Charlie Fox Mystery Series, Road Kill, Killer Instinct, and other works, lays out a seductively dark and desperate landscape of shady characters in “Served Cold.” And she does it in a way that sucks you in quickly.
The anthology’s editor, award-winning novelist Editor Megan Abbot, whose works include the new Queenpin, Die a Little, and, apropos, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir and other works, did a masterful job of selecting and managing a variety of stories. They’re categorized into five groups from Minxes, Shapeshifters and Hothouse Flowers to Hellcats, Madwomen, and Outlaws — plus an appendix of noir writers, critics, booksellers and more.
It’s a Hell of a read, and I hope they make it a serial anthology. Because when it comes to noir, these dark damsels won’t hesitate to put anyone through the glass ceiling — head first.