RogerBW's Blog

There's Nothing To Be Afraid Of, Marcia Muller 18 May 2016

1985 mystery; sixth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Someone's causing minor troubles for the inhabitants of a hotel in the Tenderloin, most of them recent Vietnamese immigrants; Sharon's employed by the Refugee Assistance Committee to look into it. Then things turn deadly.

The obvious suspect is the hotel's owner, a real estate developer who can't sell the place at a good price with sitting tenants and rent control; he's the only person who would seem to have any motive. But there are also some of the more traditionalist Vietnamese, a resident who's known to have killed someone before, the local porn baron who seems to be branching out into property speculation, and the street preacher who rants outside his cinema.

(The lack of cell phones doesn't throw me, but the reminder that there used to be money in porn cinemas rather than just selling content for people to watch at home sets this story firmly no later than the very early 1980s.)

Sharon herself seems to fade slightly: she's smart and makes the right deductions, but there's relatively little that she does that's specifically Sharon, that wouldn't be done by any other medium-hard-boiled private eye. This may be an excessive demand on my part, but the reason I like ongoing series rather than stand-alones is specifically that I like revisiting characters and expanding on them.

There's a fair bit of infodumping about the Vietnamese resettlement, but it never gets in the way of the story. Subplots are an attempt to turn Sharon's employer, the All Souls Legal Cooperative, into something more profit-focused, and a strange building contractor who's rebuilding Sharon's shower and making a lousy job of it. These get relatively little time, and feel almost as though they're put in from a sense of duty. (But I admit I'm inconsistent; in the previous book, Sharon's family business got more time and felt to me like padding because it was taking up space without being relevant to the plot.)

The story offers no particular surprises, but it's great to see Sharon's boyfriend actually use his position as a radio DJ rather than just have it bubbling along in the background.

I continue to enjoy this series: they're nothing special, but they're competently assembled and for me satisfy both the mystery-solving and character-appreciating urges. A new reader should have no trouble joining the series here. Followed by Eye of the Storm.

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