Midnight Emissions by F.X. Toole from Best American Noir of the Century – review

best american noir of the centuryReviewed by Jen Forbus

Red tells the story of how he came to train Kenny Coyle and how Kenny came to fight for Billy Clancy. Coyle was a boxer, a white heavy-weight boxer. Clancy saw dollar signs when he saw Coyle. Gave him a free place to stay, a regular pay check and a sixty thousand dollar advance. So when Coyle started slacking off – turning the gym into a social club, coming in hung over or worn out from late-night parties, and not showing up at all – Clancy wanted answers.

Toole starts off this short story explaining, “when the police find a corpse in Texas, their first question ain’t who done it, it’s what did the dead do to deserve it?” Toole looks behind the scenes of the boxing ring to the “business” end of the sport to find out just what “the dead [did] to deserve it.” His rich, authentic dialect throughout the story brings to life the characters in the world of Texas boxing.
While the story takes place in the 21st century, there are elements that make the reader feel the time period is much older, emphasizing the traditions and “old fashioned” way of doing things. The more back-woods atmosphere also works to develop the characters. They abide by their own set of laws, a code. And regardless of what the Texas legal system enforces, you respect that code.

I found myself caught up in this world. While Toole’s pace mimics the slow laziness of rural back woods areas, he also ramps up the intensity in short bursts, like a jab, and the reader feels that change. The imagery is vivid through the colloquialisms of the narrator. Toole’s choice of Red as the narrator was carefully constructed to develop every element of the story.

“Midnight Emissions” is a subtly emotional story of right and wrong; winning and losing; and justice.


Jen Forbus is an all around book cheerleader and offers great coverage at her blog Jen’s Book Thoughts.

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