San Francisco Noir 2


SAN FRANCISCO NOIR 2: THE CLASSICS

Edited by Peter Maravelis

Akashic Books

300 pages

$15.95

D. Scot Miller (For San Francisco Bay Guardian)

San Francisco has many legacies, including the social movements of the 1960s and '70s. But before more recent utopian impulses, SF was the Barbary Coast — and Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District were havens for gambling, prostitution, and crime. This gritty, nefarious reputation was enhanced in the '30s by Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon, and in the '40s by John Huston's film version, among other SF-set stories. SF was a noir city, defined by hard drinking and hard living. This is a legacy that the current city perhaps would prefer to forget, much like a blackout during a drunken binge.

In his excellent introduction to the first San Francisco Noir anthology in 2005, editor Peter Maravelis writes, "Crime fiction is the scalpel used to reveal San Francisco's pathological character." With San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, Maravelis does more than pick up the scalpel once again. Using a timeline, he reprints some of the grainiest SF snapshots by Barbary Coast writers. He starts with Mark Twain's hard-boiled description of the infernal Hall of Justice in the late 19th century — a rogues gallery of vermin, where judges drop like flies from stress-induced heart-attacks. He then traces these noir elements to a doppelganger tale by Jack London, on to Hammett, and to contemporary authors such as William T. Vollmann, who writes what Maravelis calls "splatter-noir, where plutocracy has won and the dispossessed give graphic descriptions of the tears in the social fabric." Through recent stories by Janet Dawson, Oscar Penaranda, and others, Maravelis ups the ante, as if to say: this is the real San Francisco. Always has been, always will be.