RogerBW's Blog

Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller 10 October 2016

1977 mystery; first in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's been looking into arson and vandalism on a street of junk and antique shops that's in the crosshairs of gentrification. But now one of the shop owners has been fatally stabbed.

This is the first of a long series, and I like to start long series with the first book, but sometimes it's moderately hard work. The writing is fast-paced and punchy, with few words spent on lyrical descriptions, but very little actually happens for the first two-thirds of the book: Sharon gradually does a stock-take of the murdered dealer's shop, and ponders on why the murder might have happened. It's only in the last third, when she starts following clues and uncovering things, that the story really gets going.

The mystery is pretty straightforward, with three major plausible motives, some of which lead to multiple suspects; the experienced reader won't be confused for long, although there are several clues of omission, and some significant bits of information are kept back to the last moment.

Characters are sketched-in, but well-sketched; even the minor ones are at least tintype forms with the beginnings of a third dimension. They do tend to revolve round the investigation, though; Sharon wouldn't appear to have any friends if it weren't that some of them are helpful in answering questions about the junk/art she's coming across as part of her work. Least effective of all is Greg Marcus, the homicide cop in charge, who comes over as most of the stereotypes of 1970s masculinity but still ends up as Sharon's love-interest. (I think Muller was trying for romantic sparring, but it doesn't work for me at least.)

In 1977 this would have been a revelation: it's neither twist-the-knife nasty nor archaically cosy, but a semi-hard-boiled mystery (without the sense that everything everywhere is corrupt that's key to the true hard-boiled). And of course Sharon is one of the first female private eyes in fiction.

That might have been enough then. The book doesn't stand well on its own now, but is still appealing as an historical artefact. Followed by Ask the Cards a Question.

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