I became interested in Marcia Muller’s novels back in the eighties when one on the library’s paperback spin racks caught my eye. “Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes” intrigued me because of the title, and the artist did a nice job on the cover also. I had no previous knowledge of the author, but I took it home and dived in. Very quickly Muller’s characterization of the heroine, detective Sharon McCone, captured my interest— this gritty young woman was something else! Muller’s supporting cast of characters also seemed very real to me. In many McCone mysteries one of these recurring characters becomes the focus of the story, acting as a costar with the heroine Sharon McCone.
The other aspect of the story that kept me reading was the setting; San Francisco has always fascinated me, and Muller is intimately knowledgeable of that city. The story was pretty exciting as well, although I do admit that I don’t remember any details. But of course, as many of you fellow readers understand, if you’ve read something you liked but cannot recall the story, it’s always fun to go back and read it all over again! Muller follows a typical mystery plot in most of her novels—McCone gets a case; McCone works on the case and nearly gets killed in the process; McCone saves the day in the end.
An unusual adventure of this “hard-boiled” lady private eye is in Muller’s recent novel, “Locked In”. Sharon McCone has been shot and paralyzed. She’s aware but unable to speak or write, yet determined to help her friends and detective agency staff find her attacker. True to her gritty determination, she’ll figure out a way to solve the case or die trying. I recommend reading all of Muller’s “Sharon McCone” novels right from the beginning of the series. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t currently own all of them because some are out-of-print, but we are able to obtain copies thru our Interlibrary Loan Service. ILL costs one dollar per item, but these reads are worth it. Some of my favorites include:
Edwin of the Iron Shoes—In Muller’s first novel, McCone is a young upstart at the All Souls Legal Cooperative. A darling old lady who deals in antiques hires Sharon to protect her and her store.
Leave a Message for Willie—Flea Market salesman Willie is a friend of Sharon’s who fears for his life because priceless artifacts turn up in some stuff he’s about to put on sale.
Double—Sharon McCone runs into the “Nameless Detective”, author Bill Pronsini’s character, at a Private Investigator Convention in San Diego. A woman falls off the top floor of the hotel, and the two realize that foul play was involved.
The Broken Promise Land—McCone’s brother-in-law is a famous country music star who starts receiving death threats. Sharon jumps in to protect her sister’s family.
Wolf in the Shadows—Sharon meets Hy Ripinsky, a former CIA investigator, and falls deeply in love for the first time in her life. Then Hy mysteriously disappears.
Vanishing Point–McCone is hired to investigate a very cold case (22 years!) of a housewife and artist who inexplicably disappeared in central California.
As far as other authors that are comparable to Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky is often recommended. Her heroine V. I. Warshawski is exactly the same sort of determined but endearing private eye. Margaret Maron and J. A. Jance similarly offer “hard-boiled” professional women who solve crimes. Mystery authors that feature the streets of San Francisco would be good possibilities also, including Bill Pronzini and Stephen Greenleaf. The authors most similar in content to Muller include Nevada Barr and Laurie R. King, who write about determined female detectives living in the San Francisco area.