John Byrne Barry
John Byrne Barry

You might not think that the subject of solid waste management would lend itself to a murder mystery. It would seem to be a stretch, wouldn’t it?

Although Wasted: Murder in the Recycle Berkeley Yard by John Byrne Barry is packaged as just that, it might be fairer to characterize it as a novel about corporate crime. There’s a murder in the novel, and a mystery to be solved, but it’s a long time coming in the plot, which is concerned much more with the relationship between the homegrown “Recycle Berkeley” collective and a massive international corporation called Consolidated Scavenger, which is clearly a stand-in for Waste Management.

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.

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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.

Continue reading Mal Warwick’s review of Wasted: Murder in the Recycle Berkeley Yard

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Wasted: A novel set in Berkeley’s recycling world (10.21.15)

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Freelancer Mal Warwick's reviews on his blog, occasionally appear on Berkeleyside. He is an author, entrepreneur, and impact investor who is one of three partners in One World Play Project, and founder...