RogerBW's Blog

Leave a Message for Willie, Marcia Muller 11 August 2015

1984 mystery; fifth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. A major player in the flea-markets wants help dealing with a stalker, but his business is not as honest as it could be, and soon people start turning up dead.

As with Muller's other books so far, this one's short and sharp, without the padding that would be needed to bring it up to "airplane book" size. The major problematic element is that Willie, the client, is an unashamed dealer in stolen goods; Sharon's boss has a past connection with him, but Sharon has to be intrigued into seeing him as a good guy who deserves to be helped. She gets over that quite easily, and if you can't join her, at least building a mental model of the fence as put-upon businessman rather than as facilitator of predation on people and organisations, you're likely to have trouble with the plot.

Sharon continues to be an interesting narrator; she's competent, but definitely not perfect, and her reasons for discomfort when her boyfriend seems likely to get a job involving living closer to her ring true. She complains, in narration, that he hasn't been sympathetic about her horrible day – and immediately goes on to say what I was thinking, which is that that's because she's refused to tell him about it.

She does a decent job of solving the mystery, too, coming to the right conclusions in spite of a mass of confusing and contradictory evidence. It's always good to see this approach, drowning the reader in information rather than giving out single clues here and there; any of the suspects might have been responsible for the various acts under investigation, and perhaps there's not quite enough emotional appeal to finding the right one rather than doing something horrid to all of them, but it all still held together and retained my attention.

As well as the material on the flea-markets, there's an interesting early look at what would become paintball (in its incarnation as the National Survival Game), though as Muller has done before this oddity is readily dismissed as something fit only for weirdoes, in this case right-wing nutters. Even so, she manages to avoid the big info-dumps that have sometimes shown up in earlier books.

Followed by Double.

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