Noir at the Salad Bar - Culinary Tales with a Bite edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler and Shawn Reilly Simmons.
Thirty stories are contained in this generous anthology. Many tales involve murder via food. Others use a restaurant, bar, or alternative food service as the setting. The stories varied from solidly noir to historical, traditional mystery, and even horror.
"Noir" is a style of crime fiction that portrays a cynical view of the world. Characters are deeply flawed, and the endings are bleak. In the strict definition of noir, not every story in this anthology fits that style. That suits me just fine. In Noir at the Salad Bar, there are stories for every taste.
The first tale is Cole Slaughter by Sheila Connolly. What an ending! This story fits the definition of noir, as a disgruntled woman seeks revenge for past wounds. The Lobster Tank by E. A. Aymar also has the brooding darkness of noir. A hitman with a blossoming conscience has qualms when a jerk hires him to kill his wife.
Noir at the Salad Bar contains historical mysteries with Harvey House by Joyce Ann Brown and Family Business by Harriette Sackler. Harvey House is told through the point of view of a Navajo waitress working in a railroad restaurant in the American West. Family Business follows a Jewish immigrant in 1898 New York who sells blintzes to make ends meet.
I was genuinely horrified, in a good way, by Martin Edwards' Consuming Passion. Two men meet to hash out their contentious history over fine wine and a gourmet meal. Is it noir, or is it horror? Does it matter? It was a solidly written story. The same goes for The Hearts of Men by Karen Cantwell. Short and not sweet at all, the story of Junie Harken and her pickles was hair raising.
Several stories are what I classify as traditional mysteries. There is a problem that must be solved, a puzzle worked out.
Smoked by Michael Bracken is action packed as I was drawn into Beau's world of pit barbeque. Beau is content with obscurity, until a faithful customer puts the spotlight on him by steering a magazine reviewer his way. His minor fame dredges up consequences from his shady past.
Jason Half creatively set his story at a baseball stadium. Bases Looted gathers together food concessionaires who are accused of stealing a diamond encrusted tournament prize. Was it the taco vendor, the girl selling soda pop, the peanut guy, or even a fellow pushing "new wave gourmet fare." The characters in Bases Looted were distinctly drawn with clever descriptions like "The guard switched from German shepherd to Australian cattle dog, herding me and my metal steamer full of franks and buns down the corridor."
Another traditional mystery in an unusual setting is Togas and Toques by Alan Orloff. A reality TV cooking contest turns deadly as chefs compete for a twenty five thousand dollar prize. And the character names were clever, too - Baker and Cook are the investigating officers.
This is just a sampling of the stories in this collection. I recommend Noir at the Salad Bar if you're looking for a nice variety of mystery stories sharing a common theme. From various settings, situations, and tones, there is something for everyone at this fictional buffet.
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