Miami Noir: The Classics

Edited by Les Standiford

Akashic Books. 400 pp. $17.95

Reviewed by Oline H. Cogdill

The 19 stories featured in the superb Miami Noir: The Classics work as both solid entertainment and a thoughtful history about life, crime, and punishment in South Florida. Historian, author, and editor Les Standiford has assembled an intriguing collection of short stories — each of them a reprint — divided into four sections and arranged them by decades to chronicle the region’s development over 90 years.

Each story illuminates South Florida’s landscape of immigration, ecology, grifters, betrayal, and fresh starts. Some characters manufacture their own peril while others are just trying to survive.

It’s doubtful that anyone would expect stories by conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas or activist Zora Neale Hurston to land in this collection. Yet Douglas’ “Pine Island,” written in 1925 and the excerpt from Hurston’s classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, written in 1937, are chillingly prophetic in their examinations of nature, to which Hurston weaves in racial issues.

The excerpt from Douglas Fairbairn’s 1977 novel Street Eight, and a personal favorite, is considered to be the first novel to showcase South Florida’s Cuban immigrant community. The gritty Street Eight centers on a used-car salesman caught up with Cuban expatriates who need a warehouse. Ironically, as Standiford notes, Fairbairn’s original title was “Calle Oche,” but his publishers insisted that readers would be “puzzled” by this title. The parallels between Street Eight and Carolina Garcia Aguilera’s story “Washington Avenue” are unmistakable.

In 2007, Standiford edited Miami Noir, a collection of original short stories.

Stories by Lynne Barrett, Vicki Hendricks, John Dufresne, Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard, and Edna Buchanan, among others, elevate Miami Noir: The Classics to near-required reading for Florida residents while giving the rest of country a glimpse of what makes Florida tick.

From the (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel.