RogerBW's Blog

Pennies on a Dead Woman's Eyes, Marcia Muller 20 August 2018

1992 mystery, twelfth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Thirty-six years ago, Lis Benedict was convicted of the gruesome murder of her husband's mistress; she's just been let out of prison on grounds of ill health, and her daughter's vowed to clear her name at a trial re-enactment. But as McCone investigates the long-buried case, it becomes clear that people still have something to lose.

The motivation is weak at first – the Historical Tribunal has no legal force, it's just a show to attract attention to old cases, and although it might give some closure to the family it's Lis's daughter who's pressing for it more than Lis herself. But Lis is being harrassed with graffiti and phone calls, and Sharon's informer suddenly clams up after he tries to find out who did it.

The people work very well – they're reasonably reluctant to talk to Sharon about embarrassing things, and they each try to make themselves look good in their contradictory statements. The case is a bit less convincing: the eventual resolution is just one of many possible ones, and with key evidence withheld by the narrator I don't think there's a way for the reader to be sure they've got the right solution. More seriously, a particular death is declared to be a suicide on what seems to me desperately insufficient evidence, but nobody ever questions it.

Communication is made an ongoing problem in a way that pegs this as an historical mystery: all the business of asking to borrow people's phones, and leaving numbers and getting messages, has become obsolete far faster than corrupt lawyers and memories of communist subversion. But there's plenty of local colour, and the story is well-rooted in its San Francisco setting.

I wouldn't choose to start here, but I'm still enjoying this series. Followed by Wolf in the Shadows.

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Previous in series: Where Echoes Live | Series: Sharon McCone | Next in series: Wolf in the Shadows

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