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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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