Berkeley Noir is an anthology of noir short stories that take place in Berkeley, that famous next-door neighbor of San Francisco known for its protests and activism. In many ways, this anthology fulfills all the stereotypes of Berkeley while challenging them and subverting them with other stories. I think the editors, Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill, did a superb job of selecting stories.
Rather than organizing their stories by some emotional theme, they went for simple geography. The different sections of the anthology are grouped by locale and yet that creates a sort of emotional geography of its own as different neighborhoods have different vibes.
I loved “Hill House” the housesitting nightmare and the self-sacrificing love and grief of “The Tangy Brine of Dark Night.” One of my favorite stories is “Lucky Day” about a relatively new employee of the Berkeley Public Library. “Eat Your Pheasant, Drink Your Wine” has a truly original narrative voice. That’s true of “Every Man and Every Woman Is a Star” as well and now I have got to read more by Nick Mamatas. Susan Dunlap’s “The Law of Local Karma” will feel familiar and solid to fans of Dunlap which I am. “Dear Fellow Graduates” is one of those short stories with a punch line and I loved it. I thought “Frederick Douglass Elementary” was thought-provoking and all-too-real. “Righteous Kill” feels very topical as it has a unique solution to gentrification.
There were only two stories I did not care for. “Identity Theft” was simply too horrific for me despite being well-written. I admire the skill and shrink from the subject. However, nothing can save “Boy Toy” which felt like nothing more than the taxonomy of sailing. Here’s the thing, some people do research and it informs their writing. Others do research and it becomes their writing. It seems as though the author took an illustrated diagram of a sailboat and decided to use every specialized word in it. It did not contribute to the story, it detracted.
I liked Berkeley Noir a lot. I love the Akashic Noir series and my favorites in the series are those where the authors feel no need to show off by stretching the boundaries of noir and instead seek deeply into noir fiction. In my opinion, going deep into traditional noir shows more understanding than stretching noir out of its traditional space. This Thompson and Hill did very well. It’s no blemish on this that I did not like every story. Liking every story in a multi-author anthology would be weird and indicate the editors didn’t do a good job of including diverse points of view and stories. I expect to dislike at least one story in every anthology with multiple authors. As usual, this newest addition to the Noir series is excellent.
I received an e-galley of Berkeley Noir from the publisher through Edelweiss