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Book Reviews
'Berkley Noir'
By: Edited by Jerry Thompson and Owen Hill - Akashic Books, $15.95

Description: Berkeley brings its own unique blend of Bay Area noir, complementing the grit and grime that preceded it in San Francisco Noir and Oakland Noir.

Akashic Books continues its award-winning series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city.

Verdict: This quietly compelling short story collection 'Berkley Noir' features brand new stories by: Barry Gifford, Jim Nisbet, Lexi Pandell, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Mara Faye Lethem, Thomas Burchfield, Shanthi Sekaran, Nick Mamatas, Kimn Neilson, Jason S. Ridler, Susan Dunlap, J.M. Curet, Summer Brenner, Michael David Lukas, Aya de León, and Owen Hill.

A town named after a British philosopher doesn’t exactly evoke visions of Goodis or Highsmith. Grifters? Dames? Cops? In Berkeley? On the surface the alleys don’t seem that dark, until we look a little closer.

Possibly the most iconic visual image of Berkeley does involve cops. It’s the film with Mario Savio, atop a police car, declaring, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part!”

Now there’s a statement that sums up the spirit of noir!

Much like the others from the series, 'Berkley Noir' is broken up into three parts: Part One - From the People’s Republic; Part Two - Directly Across from the Golden Gate; and Part Three - Company Town, and they come complete with sixteen (16) original stories by the aforementioned authors.

Opening with a brief Introduction (The Other Side of Piedmont), we're then thrown knee deep into the first story, 'Hill House' by Lexi Pandell and, trust me, it alone is an engrossing, page-turning read that then funnels you seamlessly into Lucy Jane Bledsoe's own 'The Tangy Brine of Dark Night' before rounding out with the short, but sweet 'Barroom Butterfly' by Barry Gifford.

The second chapter opens with the subversive 'Eat Your Pheasant, Drink You Wine' by Shanthi Sekaran, with one of my own personal favorites, the off the grid musings of Nick Mamatas' 'Every Man and Every Woman is a Star' further on, culminating with the lengthy 'Boy Toy' from Jim Nisbet.

The final chapter opens with a resilient 'The Law of Local Karma' by Susan Dunlap, which then rolls neatly into the tale of the survivor of a decade long San Quentin stint, J.M. Curet's breathtaking 'Wifebeater Tank Top.'

The third chapter comes to a close on another of my own personal favorites, a tale set in the Gilman District, 'Righteous Kill' by Owen Hill. Also one of the editors for the book, his own installment is as justified to be amongst these tales as any of them.

Now, please be aware that 'Berkley Nori' is not as gritty, as bloodied as some of the former titles already released in the series, but nonetheless, but without a shadow of a doubt, "noir" permeates each and every story.

If you read this and love it as much as I think you will, please check out other Akashic Noir books, including 'Montana Noir,' 'Vancouver Noir,' 'Lagos Noir,' and 'Milwaukee Noir.'

Jerry Thompson is a bookseller, poet, playwright, and musician. His work has appeared in ZYZZYVA and the James White Review. He is the coauthor of Images of America: Black Artists in Oakland.

His fiction and prose have appeared in various anthologies including Voices Rising, edited by G. Winston James, and Freedom in this Village: Twenty-Five Years of Black Gay Men's Writing, edited by E. Lynn Harris. He is the coeditor of Oakland Noir.

Owen Hill is the author of two crime novels, The Chandler Apartments and The Incredible Double, and he coedited The Annotated Big Sleep with Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto.

Until recently he lived in the Chandler Building on the corner of Telegraph and Dwight in Berkeley.

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