RogerBW's Blog

The Cheshire Cat's Eye, Marcia Muller 17 October 2014

Third in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. McCone investigates the murder of a painter and decorator in a rough area that's being gentrified.

The research background for this book, and it does sometimes come through in big lectures, deals with the Victorian houses of San Francisco, the "painted ladies" that were psychedelically redecorated in the 1960s.

It's all fairly fast-paced, but the writing sometimes feels a little detached, taking a step back rather than throwing the reader into the visceral situation. I think this is a deliberate stylistic choice, because in the rare scenes of physical violence everything's much more immediate, and for me it works quite well. McCone is less of a hard-nosed neurotic bitch than some of her later imitators, and comes over as someone one might even enjoy having as a friend.

While it was published in 1983, this feels like a very 1970s book: racial tensions are everywhere, and from the way things are hedged around and explained it's clear that Muller was breaking expectations by including a homosexual character who wasn't limp-wristed and promiscuous. McCone's boyfriend, a homicide lieutenant, is very much a 1970s man, a patronising and chauvinistic blowhard whose appeal to the protagonist frankly eluded me.

There's a pleasing call-back to a significant character from the first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, but no prior knowledge is needed to enter the series at this point; in part because it's been imitated so often, the setting is thoroughly familiar, occupying the borderland between hard-boiled and cosy.

Followed by Games to Keep the Dark Away.

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