RogerBW's Blog

The McCone Files, Marcia Muller 26 April 2019

1994 collection of short mystery stories, in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco.

The Introduction is more informative than these things often are; Muller describes the genesis of McCone in her experience of the sixties-hangover of the early seventies, and sums up McCone's psychological progress over the years. This is no news if you've followed the novels, but it's probably good for the new reader; these stories are spread over her entire career, and all except the first and last have been published before. (My edition doesn't show original publication dates, but I think they're mostly contemporary with their settings.)

The Last Open File is only really half a story; it describes how McCone came to work for All Souls, in its early idealistic days, and mentions one of her early cases that ended up unresolved.

Merrill-Go-Round has a child who's gone missing at a funfair, and a mother who has some underexplained reason for not going to the police. (The relatively naïve Sharon is a bit slow to pick up on that.)

Wild Mustard is a small freelance investigation; it's more scene-setting than mystery, really, and mentions the Sutro Baths that I only know about from Kage Baker's Company series. (In fact there are rather more San Francisco landmarks in several of these stories than I notice in the novels.)

The Broken Men has Sharon bodyguarding a pair of terribly famous clowns. But of course there's more going on than any of the principals is willing to tell her. This is the longest of the stories, and for me the one that works best.

Deceptions has Sharon looking for someone who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge… or did she? There's some good atmosphere around Fort Point, the Civil War-era fortification at the south end of the bridge, and the requisite complication to what should be a simple job.

Cache and Carry is a very short piece (co-written with Bill Pronzini) conducted in two phone calls: one of two insiders stole some money from a shop's cash register, but nobody can find it. Sharon calls the Nameless Detective, and he solves it on the spot, which makes her look a bit silly.

Deadly Fantasies has a rich woman worried that her siblings are trying to kill her… then she dies. The mechanism is clever, but heavily foreshadowed; the small pool of suspects is easy to reduce.

All the Lonely People has Sharon joining a dating service because several customers have been burgled. This one feels a bit shaky, with the context used more for atmosphere than for plot.

The Place That Time Forgot has an old man trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter and granddaughter, and a connection made through music.

Somewhere in the City is set round the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989; Sharon's working for a Crisis Hotline trying to track down a problem caller, and ends up using her knowledge to find him when he's trapped after the quake. The earthquake hasn't been mentioned in the novels, and for a San Franciscan setting this was an odd omission.

Final Resting Place has an old friend of Sharon's trying to find out who's been leaving flowers for her recently-deceased mother. And of course there's more to it than that.

Silent Night is a Christmas story that introduces Sharon's cousin Michael, here a teenage runaway whom she's trying to track down; ideally one would read this before Till the Butchers Cut Him Down.

Benny's Space has a gangland killing, a reluctant witness, and complications. But no spark, for me.

The Lost Coast throws Sharon into work for unpleasant people, lies and deception; one can predict the path of the case but it's still well put-together.

File Closed completes The Last Open File, finishing off the open case from all those years ago, in the context of Sharon's departure from All Souls. (And, it seems, all of Sharon's friends are leaving too.)

There's a particular pattern to the plot that recurs in quite a lot of these stories; I won't say what it is, because at this length there's not much room to disguise the bones with differently-shaped meat, but it does make some of them a bit predictable, especially when read all together rather than spread out over the decades. Still, I've certainly read worse short mystery story collections.

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Previous in series: Till the Butchers Cut Him Down | Series: Sharon McCone | Next in series: A Wild and Lonely Place

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