Texas: A Historical Atlas

Texas: A Historical Atlas
By A. Ray Stephens, with cartography by Carol Zuber-Mallison
University of Oklahoma Press
(List price $39.95, 448 pages)

Anyone who craves a solid understanding of modern Texas should read this beautiful, well-produced coffee table book.

It is an extensive update and revision of the popular Historical Atlas of Texas, which stood as a key Texas reference for more than two decades.

This 448-page edition from the University of Oklahoma Press contains 175 color maps, more than 80 black-and-white and color photographs and numerous charts.

The focus of the essays and illustrations ranges from the earliest settlers and cattle trails to 21st-century industries and population trends. The book also addresses such subjects as the Texas Declaration of Independence, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the development of early roads, border disputes and other issues.

Texas: A Historical Atlas is a handy – and hefty – guide to a complex, diverse state with a rich history and an economic output that exceeds that of many nations.

The author is director of the Texas History Institute and a retired history professor at the University of North Texas. The cartographer is a cartographer for the Texas Almanac, and she is a former editor and artist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Their book is both a handy and detailed reference and a comprehensive introduction to the Lone Star State.

Si Dunn

Lone Star Noir: Deep in the (Dark) Heart of Texas

 Fans of noir fiction prefer their stories dark and gritty.

They relish harsh tales told from troubled viewpoints: crime victims, serial killers, suspects, witnesses.

A private eye may be snooping around somewhere nearby. But cops and sheriff’s deputies are not yet on the scene. A terrible act central to the story is just about to be discovered. Or it is just minutes away from happening.

Lone Star Noir fits this story pattern almost perfectly. Fourteen hardboiled short stories, set deep in the darkest heart of Texas, take the book’s readers to life’s ragged edges. You move along grim roads leading “to the tail end of everything,” to places where “a plain bare bulb swings overhead, casting a dizzying light,” and into the company of people who understand “guns and dope and greed and hatred and delusion…” probably better than they understand anything else.

Published by Akashic Books, Lone Star Noir is edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd, the co-publishers of Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso.

The book cuts the state into three regions: Gulf Coast Texas, Back Roads Texas, and Big City Texas. Each region in the book, of course, has its own flair for sinister settings.

The stories are new, and most of the 15 writers (one story has two authors) have some kind of connections to the Lone Star State, which Bobby Byrd contends “bleeds noir fiction.”

A cautionary notice: Lone Star Noir is alive with raw language and murderous events. It is definitely not for the easily offended, nor the faint of heart.

Noir fiction can bring you face to face with people you would never want to meet, nor be. And it reminds readers how humanity’s darkest possibilities lie just beneath everyday life’s thin veneer.

Lisa Sandlin’s short story “Phelan’s First Case” focuses on a rookie Beaumont private detective who tries to solve a missing-person mystery in the gloomy Big Thicket north of Houston. Meanwhile, another mystery that could get somebody killed starts unfolding back at his office while he is away.

In “Bottomed Out,” Dean James’ gruesome tale, a Dallas company’s German “troubleshooter” gets a manager fired but also frames him for another employee’s murder.

And Jessica Powers’ short story “Preacher’s Kid” takes the reader inside the mind of a West Texas preacher. He tries and fails to stop his son from drinking, but he has to confront a much deeper and more painful truth about his family.

Akashic Books started its original noir anthology series in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Since then, approximately 40 noir story collections have been published, ranging from Chicago Noir to Paris Noir and Wall Street Noir. More are scheduled, including Cape Cod Noir and Pittsburgh Noir.

According to Bobby Byrd, many people arrive in Texas expecting to see J.R. Ewing or Larry McMurtry characters lurking behind every oil rig and cattle herd.

“The real Texas,” he insists, “hides out in towns and cities like you’ll find in Lone Star Noir.

Maybe, maybe not. In any case, it is infinitely safer to read the book and not go looking for proof — and trouble — at the end of dark Texas roads.

Si Dunn