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Coincidence that I was born the same year Disneyland opened and Charlie "Bird" Parker died. A lot of things begin and a lot of people die in any given year. But those two events have stayed with me-given the accident of occurring in that particular year-and they provide a hint as to how we arrive at this collection of all-new, tough, unblinking stories in Orange County Noir.
As everybody probably knows, Disneyland is located in Orange County, the city of Anaheim specifically. When I was a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles, what I knew of life behind the Orange Curtain-beyond bugging my dad to take me to the theme park-was nil. None of my relatives lived there, nor did my folks have friends in the area. Except for going to Walt's Adventureland or Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, all I knew was that getting to Orange County was too long a trip on the freeway for a nine-year-old anticipating the thrill of riding the Matterhorn roller coaster and realizing the birthright of Southern Californians of driving a car-at least for a few minutes solo on the Autopia.
Now, I'd heard of the Beach Boys and associated their songs of the endless summer with the surfers I'd seen on TV piloting those majestic waves down in Orange County (even though it turned out those guys grew up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles). By the time I was a teen, I finally understood the chuckles my dad and his friends had over beers when they joked about not letting the sun go down on them in Orange County, "where all them Birchers are." Referring, I'd find out, to the ultraconservative, anti-civil rights John Birch Society.
Time and the social evolution of the Southland have brought change even to vast Orange County with its forty-some miles of coastline. I was recently told by a resident of Newport Beach, one of the tonier enclaves of the county, that her district, which launched ex-pro quarterback Jack Kemp to office, went for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race.
Because and beyond being a GOP stronghold, Orange County brings to mind McMansion housing tracts; massive shopping centers with their own zip codes where Pilates classes are run like boot camp and real-estate values are discussed at your weekly colonic; and ice-cream parlors on Main Street, U.S.A., side by side with pho shops and taquerías. Los Angeles has been and continues to be explored as the place where noir, if it wasn't spawned there, sure as hell flowered. But what about its neighbor to the south? What secrets do Orange County's denizens have to tell ... or hide?
This volume, like coming in from a sudden storm and then being gripped by a heavy riff from Bird's horn, takes you on a hard-boiled tour behind the Orange Curtain. Among those you'll meet are a reclusive rock star who has lived way too long in his twisted head, a crooked judge who uses the court for illicit means, a cab driver prowling the streets with more than the ticking meter on his mind. In Orange County Noir, cultures clash, housewives want more than the perfect grout cleaner, and nobody is exactly who they seem to be.
Gary Phillips Los Angeles, CA January 2010
Excerpted from Orange County Noir Copyright © 2010 by Akashic Books. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 29, 2010
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