RogerBW's Blog

Trophies and Dead Things, Marcia Muller 30 October 2017

1990 mystery; tenth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. A former student radical dies in one of a series of apparently random shootings. Shortly before his death, he changed his will, disinheriting his children and giving his money to four strangers. Sharon tracks them down, and tries to find out why he did it and whether there might have been any duress or undue inflence.

I enjoyed this book, but I wonder how much of that is because I've enjoyed previous books in the series and it's interesting to return to Sharon's world and see how it's changed since the last visit. Although this book was published in 1990, it still feels more like a late-70s book than like a late-80s one, although there are some references to contemporary politics; it wants to be a serious look at the aftermath of The Sixties (as distinct from the sixties), and the long shadows cast by both the student protest movement and the Vietnam War, but it keeps remembering it's a genre mystery and snapping back to the investigation.

As with the previous book The Shape of Dread, the pacing falls apart towards the end: there's an impressive action sequence which solves part of the mystery (yes, another foot chase, though it makes effective and atmospheric use of the famous San Francisco fog), but while that gives us most of the answers there are some loose ends, so those other parts sputter along like gunpowder cast off from the big finale firework.

This is a world that to some extent exists to make Sharon look good, and so she can get away with dressing down a police detective because she knows she's going to be justified. It doesn't quite fit "hard-boiled" any more, though; as is likely to happen with the protagonist of any long-running detective series that's written honestly, Sharon has a reputation and powerful friends from previous books. So obviously any detective who objects to her involving herself with a murder case must be knowingly wrong.

There were some oddities. The shooter keeps being referred to as a "sniper" even though his weapon of choice is a pistol. Some of the timing of events in the 1960s didn't seem entirely consistent, though I'm not going back to check. In the end it's not a particularly compelling mystery, but it does have compelling characters, and that makes up for a lot.

Followed by Where Echoes Live.

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