Palm Springs Noir

<em>Palm Springs Noir</em>

This is the introduction written by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

Between the Devil and the deep Blue Sea

Ten years ago, when my first noir short story, “Crazy for You,” was published in Orange County Noir, my mother-in-law asked me to define the genre. She read mystery fiction and cozies but wasn’t familiar with noir.

“In noir, the main characters might want their lives to improve and may have high aspirations and goals,” I said, “but they keep making bad choices, and things go from bad to worse.”

Her response was immediate: “Like real life.” We burst into laughter, but it was tinged with the bittersweet pain of knowing.

All of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in sticky situations with more than a couple of ways we might go. I’d like to think most of us take the high road, the ethical and moral path. In noir, characters follow the highway to doom and destruction. They are haunted by the past, and the line between black and white, right and wrong, dissolves like sugar in water. The hero rationalizes why it’s okay to do whatever dark thing they are about to do.

Crime novelist Laura Lippman summed up noir: “Dreamers become schemers.” People are blinded by nostalgia as they try to outrun or escape their pasts. Afflicted affairs, lies and transgressions, and murky secrets color the world of noir. Characters end up mired in sex, greed, and murder, unable to extricate themselves.

And setting. The best noir writers make us feel the heat of the sun, the touch of a lover. Setting can be gritty but can also be sublime, no longer relegated to urban locales and seedy hotel rooms but also mansions and swimming pools. Hence, Palm Springs, which may seem like an odd setting for a collection of dark short stories—it’s so sunny and bright here. The quality of light is unlike anywhere else, and with an average of three hundred sunny days a year, what could go wrong?

The area is famous for many things: 130-plus golf courses make it the golfing capital of the US; the largest concentration of midcentury modern residential architecture in the world; and with fifty thousand swimming pools at last count, Palm Springs has more pools per capita than anywhere else in the US. And nothing says Palm Springs more than the four thousand wind turbines that provide enough electricity to power the entire Coachella Valley.

While the greater Palm Springs area has its share of dive bars, its alleyways tend to be tidy and clean, and femmes fatales are more likely to be found in bathing suits than slinky dresses or tailored suits. But on a steamy summer day, the residential streets are absent of people and can possess an unsettling quiet. Where is everyone? You’re reminded to lock the car and front door.


Reprinted courtesy of Akashic Books

To learn more about Barbara and her work, go here.