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Till the Butchers Cut Him Down, Marcia Muller 18 April 2019

1994 mystery, fourteenth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's gone independent, though she stays on good terms with All Souls and even rents office space from them; but her first case is from an old college friend, who was a bit iffy back in the day and may be even more so now. He claims he's being persecuted, but his evidence isn't great. Then things change.

There are places in the early parts of the book where I felt McCone should simply have walked away from the case and got on with some real work. Her principal, known back in the day as "Suits" because he always had a suitcase full of dodgy goods to sell, refuses to tell her things she needs to know, and wastes her time dragging her around the Bay Area. He's a "turnaround man", a corporate troubleshooter brought in to a failing company to try to stop it going bankrupt, which clearly has the potential to have made him enemies; but there's a lot of inside knowledge being deployed in the harassment, and something doesn't quite fit.

There are, alas, a couple of huge gaps which Muller skates over and hopes we won't notice.

Fhvgf zneevrq uvf jvsr nsgre trggvat ure ybire ng gur gvzr gb yrnir ol ylvat gb uvz gung fur qvqa'g jnag uvz nal zber. Ur gryyf Funeba guvf… naq arire guvaxf gb zragvba gung fnvq rk-ybire vf abj uvf crefbany cvybg, cevil gb nyy uvf ohfvarff naq zbirzragf.

N ivpgvz bs na rkcybfvba vf fhccbfrqyl vqragvsvrq ol qragny erpbeqf, ohg vg yngre gheaf bhg gung gur qragvfg unq fvzcyl fnvq "lrf, gung'f zl fglyr bs jbex". Jul vf guvf gerngrq nf na vqragvsvpngvba jura vg'f xabja gung bgure crbcyr jrer rkcrpgrq gb ghea hc va gur nern?

Revealing the first of these would give away the identity of the villain (indeed, a clue hinting at it did give that away to me), and revealing the other would rob the ending of some of its emotional weight; but it feels like cheating to leave them out.

On the other hand the writing is compelling; even with a multi-month time skip, there's a sense of tension and impending danger, which is a neat trick to manage. There's travel well outside California, to the sites of some earlier corporate rescues, which I think may be a first for the series; and those places feel effectively different from the usual settings for these stories.

An underserved B plot has Sharon's nephew Mick coming to stay, struck by the glamour of the private investigator's life (ho ho) but still being useful even as his illusions are shattered. There's a good bit of leadership here too: you did a wrong thing, and yes you've apologised for it and that's fine in the immediate sense, but also you need to show that you're not going to make that whole class of bad decision again. Sharon also works on her relationship with Hy.

Followed by A Wild and Lonely Place.

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Previous in series: Wolf in the Shadows | Series: Sharon McCone | Next in series: The McCone Files

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