Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Capturing O.C.'s dark side

Unsure if Orange County is noir-challenged?

“Orange County Noir" explores the underbelly of Orange County locales with the noir treatment, complete with danger, cynical characters and the antithesis of Orange County pretty.

The book, released in April, features Orange County and Southern California writers who take a hard-boiled look at Orange County.

The collection of 14 short stories carries on in the tradition of the greats such as Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep," Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon" and James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice."


Noir usually ends badly for the central character. Noir has a dark edge. Noir women are suspect.

Noir is about setting, atmosphere and characters that want something and are willing to get it anyway they can.

What makes OC noir?

“It’s the contrast between the county’s sunny reputation and its darker undercurrents," said Martin J. Smith, once a denizen of Los Alamitos, who now drives daily from Palos Verdes Estates to Newport Beach to edit Orange Coast Magazine.


Smith refers to Orange County Noir editor Gary Phillips’ comments, “Sunshine and surf are the metaphors for Orange County, but sunshine casts long shadows. It’s in the shadows that these stories take place."

Smith finds that fascinating. His story, “Dark Matter," is set on Balboa Island, a location he believes is emblematic of Orange County’s striver culture.

“It represents the good life and everything it has to offer "” mansions, yachts, excess! And, yet, the story is the tale of a guy who had it all "¦ and then lost it all, and eventually succumbed to his own bad judgment."

Author and host of KUCI’s “Writers on Writing" Barbara DeMarco-Barrett placed her character in Costa Mesa, which as she said “surely has its dark side."

She liked the setting because it has wealth and it has poverty and everything in between.

“My character Mimi lived on the Costa Misery side of town, but very much wanted a slice of heaven, found on the Eastside."

DeMarco-Barrett describes noir characters as those who “have a little something loose, who circle the drain with little effort, who are drawn to the dark side" and have few qualms about getting what they want.

Noir cities featured


The Orange County areas featured include San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Tustin, Santa Ana, Santa Ana Narrows, Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange, Garden Grove, Laguna Beach, Balboa Island, Seal Beach and Los Alamitos.

Meet the authors

Upcoming events may help iron out the conflict between the dark and the light in Orange County.

The writers with Orange County connections include DeMarco-Barrett, Smith, Patricia McFall, Gordon McAlpine, Mary Castillo and Dan Duling, the scriptwriter for the Pageant of the Masters.

The foreword is written by bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker, a former O.C. resident living in San Diego County.

Parker drew on Orange County locales from the time Laguna Heat hit the shelves in 1985.

“Enjoy the black orange," advises Parker in his foreword to “Orange County Noir." “There’s a dark side to most places"¦noir writers are bent toward the darkness so don’t expect the Orange County in these pages to be quite as sunny as it thinks it is."

If You Go


What: OC Noir panel discussion with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Nathan Walpow, Gordon McAlpine, Rob Roberge, Dan Duling, Mary Castillo and moderator Patricia McFall.

When: 3 to 5 p.m. Monday

Where: Laguna Playhouse, Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road.

Fee: $25, which supports the playhouse; includes dessert, coffee, tea and champagne.