Friday, May 06, 2022

Opening Lines From Denver Noir

If you’ve read any of my recent posts for La Bloga you know that I have a short story in the just-published (May 3) anthology Denver Noir, and that I think this book features some excellent examples of dark, sinister fiction.  Cynthia Swanson, the editor, gathered thirteen writers (plus herself) with Denver roots to create varied tales with a noirish tinge set in different Denver neighborhoods. 

Akashic Books, the publisher, defines “noir” as “morally ambiguous.” The definition I like for “noir” is “a story whose protagonist is screwed on the first page and goes downhill after that.” When I read Denver Noir I accepted that these definitions were guideposts only.  Eventually, authors will write “noir” according to their own definitions based on what they think their stories require. 

However, I contrasted the diverse plots and characters against the definitions, simply as an exercise that I hoped would make me a better writer.  That exercise got me to ask questions such as, “How noir are the opening lines?”

What I’ve ended up with is today’s blog.  For your reading enjoyment I present the opening lines to the fourteen stories in Denver Noir. Welcome to a collection of screwed characters and morally ambiguous circumstances.  Welcome to grim choices and bad decisions, broken hearts and crippled lives.  And watch out for that last page. 


COLFAX AND HAVANA – David Heska Wanbli Weiden

The smell of the grease from the taquería downstairs overwhelmed me as I tried to review thirty pages of legal documents.  I rented a small office – about the size of a walk-in closet – on the second floor of an old building on East Colfax in Aurora.  The price was right, but my space was directly above the restaurant’s trash can and oil bin.


By the time LaVonda returned from setting the table, the two men had nearly traversed the length of her block.  She had watched them for over an hour and now it was dusk. As they approached her walkway, she closed her book and rose from her chair.


Digging graves is straightforward labor, involving little more than brute strength and a sufficiently sharp blade.  The job can be done with relative ease by even the most doltish of common workhands.

TOUGH GIRLS – Erika T. Wurth

Entering the White Horse was like entering a dream.  A dream of the past. My mother’s past. She had grown up here – in Denver, on Colfax, like a million other Indians, like her own mother.  Now I was back to solve a crime.  Another Indian woman dead, like so many others in our communities, no one but her mom giving a shit.  Not the cops.  Not her dad, who hadn’t been seen in a decade.  No one else but me, a woman whose face, though allowed to grow much more critical with age, so resembled hers.

THE LAKE – Peter Heller

I live on the west side of Denver.  Sloan’s.  Three miles around with an island in the middle.  I live in a small 1950s blond-brick ranch house whose walls are cracking because the water table is high and there is a stream running through my crawl space.  But I wouldn’t trade it.  I look out the window and I see grass, water, trees, mountains.  The long escarpment of the Continental Divide.  I’m really in the middle of a city but it doesn’t seem that way…. 

I love where I live but here’s a confession:  I have never really known what I was supposed to do in my life.  Or whom I should listen to.  Should I listen to myself?  I always seemed to get in trouble that way.


With certain white girls … they try to connect with you … by tossing out some faceless, generic aspect of blackness … that has nothing to do with you.  It’ll pop up outta nowhere … nothing to do with the conversation. Just some random and useless “Black” fact they’ve been dying to tell you.  Like, we were just talking about music, and she says … “My godfather is black.”

NO GODS – Amy Drayer

There are two bars in my neighborhood that aren’t terrible.  Aren’t full of hipsters and liars, mostly lying to themselves but still not worth the goddamn words you’re wasting on them.  I always walk to the bars, right up Broadway.  If you can’t walk to the bar, you shouldn’t go because you shouldn’t drive drunk.  And if you’re at a bar and you’re not drunk, what the fuck are you doing?  I mean, just what the fuck are you doing? I know what I’m doing and it’s not wasting my time in bars I haven’t been in before and driving around drunk.  Jesus Christ.

JUNK FEED – Mark Stevens

Katy Cutler’s neatly trimmed right eyebrow arched like the top curve on a question mark. “When I imagine private investigators, I picture them on long stakeouts, sitting in their cars eating greasy sandwiches out of paper bags.  So perhaps you never –"

“That’s kind of a movie-type cliché.”  Wayne Furlong swallowed hard.  He hoped she didn’t press the question.  “Trope, I guess.  Never quite sure of the difference.”


I didn’t give it a second thought when the young white man was shot outside Gaetano’s at Tejon and Thirty-eighth.  Way I saw it, that wasn’t news.  People been shot in the Northside for years, didn’t matter that the Chicano barrio was quickly turning into something else, something whiter, something with more money. 

WAYS OF ESCAPE – Barbara Nickless

The dogs heard me coming before I could see them in the dark.  Rex and Terror, my dad’s hunting dogs, a pair of black Labs.  He’d raised them from pups, loved them like children; they were the only creatures around here he never hit.

SANGRE – D. L. Cordero


Rogelio heard the whisper from his threadbare blue recliner, drowsy brown eyes opening to the feel of goose bumps creeping up his legs.  The bedroom he shared with his second-youngest brother was vacant, save himself, as the whole two-story brick house should’ve been despite the rustling in the hall.  He leaned forward, straining to listen, looking at his watch.

Only five minutes past nine.

DREAMING OF ELLA – Francelia Belton

All he wanted to play was jazz, and to one day play trumpet to the First Lady of Song’s voice.  So when the Miss Ella Fitzgerald walked into the Silver Sax one chilly November night in 1956, Morgan could hardly believe his dream might come true.

ON GRASMERE LAKE – Mathangi Subramanian

The day they found her father’s body, Nithi’s feet moved on their own, carrying her out of her front door and down Louisiana Avenue, toward Washington Park.  It was winter, and pale, leafless maple and oak trees twisted toward the sky like bleached bones.  Renovated homes alternated with cleared plots of land, the houseless dirt turned up like freshly dug graves.

EL ARMERO – Mario Acevedo

I exit the number 12 bus at the corner of Forty-fifth Avenue and Camino de Frida Kahlo.  Traffic rumbles above me.  I’m under the Mousetrap, an immense concrete confusion straddling Globeville, where Interstates 25 and 70 intersect north of downtown Denver.  I take a moment to catch my breath.  The air carries a metallic tang and tastes of grit filtering from the rush of trucks and cars on the overpass.



Manuel Ramos lives in Denver on the Northside.  His latest novel is Angels in the Wind: A Mile High Noir.

1 comment:

Herlinda said...