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San Diego Noir

San Diego Noir

by Maryelizabeth Hart

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“When it’s done right, noir is a darkly delicious thrill: smart, sharp-tongued, surprising. The knife goes in at the end with a twist. San Diego Noir, a new 15-story collection by some of the region’s best writers, has all that going for it, and the steady supply of hometown references makes it even more fun.”
--San Diego Union-Tribune<


“When it’s done right, noir is a darkly delicious thrill: smart, sharp-tongued, surprising. The knife goes in at the end with a twist. San Diego Noir, a new 15-story collection by some of the region’s best writers, has all that going for it, and the steady supply of hometown references makes it even more fun.”
--San Diego Union-Tribune

Brand-new stories by: T. Jefferson Parker, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Martha Lawrence, Diane Clark&Astrid Bear, Debra Ginsberg, Morgan Hunt, Ken Kuhlken, Taffy Cannon, Don Winslow, Cameron Pierce Hughes, Lisa Brackmann, Gabriel R. Barillas, Gar Anthony Haywood, and Maria Lima.

Launched with the summer '04 award-winning best seller Brooklyn Noir, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.

San Diego is home to miles of beaches, Balboa Park, a world-famous zoo, and some of the country's most expensive home and resort real estate. Yet the city also houses a few items that aren't actively promoted by the visitor's bureau: a number of the country's most corrupt politicians, border-related crimes, terrorists, and the occasional earthquakes. A noir feast!

In the 50-plus years since Raymond Chandler set Playback in Esmeralda, his name for La Jolla, the population has grown by more than a million, and crime has proliferated as well. San Diego of the past and the present offers the book's contributors a rich selection of settings, from the cross on Mount Soledad to the piers of Ocean Beach, and perpetrators and victims from the residents of its wealthiest enclaves to the inhabitants of its segregated barrios.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
San Diego, Calif., calls itself "America's Finest City," but apparently it's not "America's Finest City for Noir Fiction," if this uneven anthology is any guide. Perhaps the best entry is T. Jefferson Parker's character-driven "Vic Primeval," about a stripper/hooker and the poor sap who falls for her. Another standout is Don Winslow's "After Thirty," about a "hard case," sailor Charlie Decker, on leave in San Diego in the closing days of WWII. The characters feel real, and the story has a neat, ironic twist at the end. Also notable is Cameron Pierce Hughes's "Moving Black Objects," a grungy exploration of San Diego's underside by a character who will surprise the reader. But most of these 15 stories are subpar, with too much local color and too little plot—and not nearly enough of a noir sensibility. (June)
Library Journal
For my money, the "Akashic Noir" series has been one of the best bargains of the past decade. Started in 2004, the series has almost 50 titles thus far. These regional gems give us a chance to sample new stories from the locals, writers who know the dark sides of their cities, regions, or even countries. The introductions, maps, and author bios all enhance the respective volumes. George, author of an Edgar-nominated Pittsburgh-based series (Hideout; The Odds) shares the "dark underbelly" of her city, sectioning her anthology off thematically: "Prime Real Estate"; "Three Rivers"; "Universities, Parks, Recreation"; and "Neighbors Who Care." The volume is solidly anchored with familiar names like K.C. Constantine, Thomas Lipinski, and Nancy Martin—plus others you might not have expected.The San Diego volume, edited by the co-owner of San Diego bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, is structured much the same, but this city's themes run to "Working Stiffs"; "Neighborhood Watch"; "Life's a Beach"; and "Boundaries & Borders." T. Jefferson Parker and Don Winslow are headliner choices, but it is delightful to find Martha C. Lawrence, Taffy Cannon, and Luis Alberto Urrea included, too. Maria Lima brings in a bonus urban fantasy. VERDICT Keep in mind these are noir collections, not at all cozy. I get the feeling that the contributors enjoy stretching their wings and trying new personas, so proceed accordingly. Perfect for adventurous book groups and for travelers seeking the less rosy side of the cities they're planning to visit.

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Read an Excerpt

San Diego Noir

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2011 Akashic Books
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-936070-94-7


"America's Finest City"

The southwesternmost metropolis in the contiguous United States, resting a mere forty feet above sea level, tends to garner positive national attention. San Diego is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park (with its history reaching back to the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition), temperate climes, and a sunny reputation. It is also the home of shooter Brenda Ann "I Don't Like Mondays" Spencer, disgraced Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, and San Diego County medical examiner-turned-killer Kristin Rossum.

Joseph Wambaugh chronicled crime crossing the border in 1984's Lines and Shadows, a saga about the challenges facing the Border Crime Task Force that continues today, even after the squad whose efforts it chronicled has been disbanded. My first strong sense of the city's noir undertones came in the late 1980s, when La Jolla socialite Betty Broderick fatally shot her ex-husband Dan and his new wife Linda Kolkena, after gaining entrance to her ex's new home with a key she'd taken from her daughter's purse. (The incident where she drove a vehicle into his home was separate.) When Mysterious Galaxy, the bookstore I co-own, opened its first location in Clairemont in 1994, the Clairemont Killer, Cleophus Prince Jr., had already been convicted of killing six women in the neighborhood—including a murder in the apartment complex my family briefly resided in.

San Diego has a strong military presence dating back to the establishment in the early 1800s of what is now Old Town Historical Park, along with army and naval intelligence divisions, the nation's first military flying school (remember Top Gun?), and active ports and support industries. San Diego was where Shawn Nelson stole an M60 Patton tank in May 1995 and drove it down the freeway until forcibly stopped by police. Downtown, once filled with quick entertainment for military men passing through, has risen to meet and exceed the community center dreams that Ray Bradbury and company conceived for Horton Plaza ... although the locals still recall the Gaslamp Quarter's not-too-distant history as a haven for tattoo parlors and hookers.

The city is sometimes referred to as San Diego–Tijuana, a conurbation, with all its attendant border issues—illustrated in true noir fashion in Orson Welles's classic Touch of Evil, adapted from Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. A ways up the coast from the border lies the grave of Raymond Chandler, who resided in the wealthy enclave of La Jolla from 1946 to 1959; that area masquerades as "Esmeralda" in Playback, his final Philip Marlowe novel. Robert B. Parker's Spenser visits Esmeralda in Stardust.

San Diego has been the setting for a number of television and film mysteries, including the unforgettable chase across the rooftops of the Hotel del Coronado in The Stunt Man; and has been the backdrop for investigations by the protagonists of Simon & Simon, Veronica Mars, and most recently Terriers. While the city can exist as a cohesive whole, drawn together to rally against fires, mudslides, or rival sports teams, like many places in the American West, it is a metropolis of a variety of individual neighborhoods whose boundaries have slowly grown into each other. The upper-crust concerns of Del Mar and its racetrack have little in common with the idiosyncratic habits of Ocean Beach residents. The working-class neighborhood of Kearny Mesa is only minimally impacted by the surrounding high-tech development areas like Sorrento Valley. And while some San Diegans welcome the annual influx of 150,000 attendees at the largest celebration of popular culture, Comic-Con International, others bemoan the invasion of aliens and superheroes.

Through the stories in this volume, readers can visit many of the popular local sites, as well as some prosaic areas that are more familiar to residents than tourists. The contributors cover a wide range of the diversity of this Pacific Rim city. Don Winslow, Astrid Bear, and Diane Clark include the town's military history in their stories. Ken Kuhlken, Debra Ginsberg, and Taffy Cannon weave tales that could perhaps occur in any city—but are colored with the particular scents and sounds of San Diego. The protagonists of the stories by T. Jefferson Parker, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Martha C. Lawrence, and Cameron Pierce Hughes all make a living because of crime. Morgan Hunt, Gar Anthony Haywood, and Lisa Brackmann imbue local attractions with a new sensibility. Gabriel R. Barillas reminds us that for many residents, the town is defined by its connected freeways—freeways put to use by Luis Alberto Urrea's characters. And Maria Lima contributes something rare for the Akashic Noir Series, a cross-genre story set in the heart of the city's downtown.

I hope that reading this intriguing collection will result in you not just thinking of Shamu (the whale of SeaWorld fame), but maybe a shamus or two, when America's Finest City comes to mind.

Maryelizabeth Hart San Diego, California March 2011


Excerpted from San Diego Noir Copyright © 2011 by Akashic Books. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Maryelizabeth Hart is a co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy, an independent mystery and science fiction bookstore in San Diego, founded in 1993. In addition to her bookseller responsibilities, she is a reviewer for Publishers Weekly and an occasional contributor to works of nonfiction, including Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Greenwood Press).

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