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Wasted: Murder in the Recycle Berkeley Yard Kindle Edition
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Recently divorced, he hopes to hook up with the wife of the victim. The victim was a friend who beat him out for the attention of the woman he has long desired.
All of the characters are complex, and the writing sets you in the scene.
Love, betrayal, recycling
The plot of Wasted revolves around a set of characters suitable for a soap opera, Berkeley-style. Barb has recently left her crazy lover, Doug, after nearly a decade. Brian, having been obsessively in love with her all that time, has just broken up with his wife, Eileen, and is now sleeping in his office. Doug may be Brian’s best friend, though that’s hard to understand, as Doug appears to be both insane and abusive and has no friends at all.
At the center of this (triangle? rectangle?) lies Recycle Berkeley, known to one and all as Re-Be, the collectively run recycling center that contracts with the City of Berkeley to collect the community’s reusable solid waste. Barb, having helped Doug build Re-Be since the beginning, has now taken a corporate job with Re-Be’s nemesis, Consolidated Scavenger. Naturally, this has sent Doug over the edge (assuming he wasn’t there all along). Brian is hoping to jump-start a new career as an investigative journalist, and Doug has persuaded him to write about what he believes to be the corporation’s criminal efforts to undermine Re-Be. The result, a series of exposes published in a local free weekly newspaper, is underway as Wasted begins. As the story unfolds, we learn progressively more about the role of organized crime in the corporation’s history and its underhanded and possibly criminal tactics to absorb small competitors. Anyone familiar with the history of Waste Management will recognize these allegations.
Adding tension and urgency to the tale is the imminent end of Re-Be’s contract with the City. At the same time, City Council elections are approaching, and one Councilmember is determined to oust Re-Be and steer the contract instead to Consolidated Scavenger. Re-Be is backing her challenger, a member of the leftist political party that will gain a majority on the Council if she is elected.
Does all this sound like Berkeley to you? I’ve lived here for nearly half a century, and I must say it does to me.
Murder in the recycling yard?
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever been murdered in the facilities of the Ecology Center, which operates Berkeley’s recycling program. Nor could one Councilmember hold so much sway over the City’s recycling contract or be so much in the public eye, as the novel implies; the Mayor would be far more likely to be featured by the news media. It also seems unlikely that such an obviously deranged person as Doug could hold on for a decade in charge of a complex million-dollar business.
However, with all that said, Wasted is nonetheless a satisfying read (and would probably be more so for someone who doesn’t know much about Berkeley). The author writes well, he understands the recycling business, and he successfully builds suspense to a crescendo. Despite my grumbling about the liberties taken for the sake of simplicity in crafting this story, I enjoyed the book.
About the author
According to an interview with the author that appeared on the local website Berkeleyside, John Byrne Barry “lived in Berkeley for 30 years, served on the board of the Ecology Center, and wrote about recycling issues for local publications, including the East Bay Express.” The Express is a free weekly newspaper much like the paper in the novel. Barry has since written a second novel, Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough, Family is Tougher, set in New Mexico during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
WASTED is a wild ride that manages to stay thought provoking. There's a point in a popular and successful movement where young purists jump ship, corporate forces glom on to the cause, and what was clear becomes confusing and murky. Even without the shock of a murder among the loyal activists, things get very strange. This mystery, set at the time when recycling began to be big business, with big garbage companies muscling in, evokes all kinds of shifts for idealists in all kinds of fields. That gives it a good deal of resonance.
It also swiftly poses bigger questions about political corruption, sex and consent, independent journalism... and more, as events unfold.
The main character is unsure of himself, troubled, earnest and.. pretty much grasping for an identity that can transcend his idealism, without losing his values. It leaves some open questions on the table even as the murder plot is resolved.
Caveat: I do know the author. That just might have made me enjoy this a little bit more. But it very may easily have made me more critical, too. So read it, you'll enjoy it and have plenty to ponder.