Pronzini and Muller: Mysteries in Old San Francisco

Queen Anne Houses SF
Queen Anne houses in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, built around the time of the Carpenter and Quincannon mysteries. Courtesy Anomalous_A via Flickr Community Commons.

While Bill Pronzini first invented the eponymous character Quincannon in 1985, it wasn't until 1998 that his wife, Marcia Muller, got in on the act and they produced the short story collection, Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services. In early 2013, they decided to go with a good thing and introduced the Carpenter and Quincannon series with The Bughouse Affair: A Carpenter And Quincannon Mystery. John Quincannon is a former Secret Service agent in 1890s San Francisco, not unlike Chicago at the time in that it is expanding, optimistic, and on the take. His partner, Mrs. Sabina Carpenter, is a young widow and a former "Pink Rose," a female Pinkerton detective. In this first full-length book of the two together, Sabina and John are working what they think are separate cases, she a series of picked pockets in popular areas of the city, and he a set of break-ins among the well-to-do.  A pair of murders leads them to realize that the crimes are connected, and off they go. Things are further complicated by the periodic appearance of a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes who knows an awful lot about their work and drops hints to help solve the mystery.

In the second book in the series, The Spook Lights Affair, Sabina is trying to discover the motive behind the apparent suicide of a spoiled debutante, and financially-motivated John is trying to determine the whereabouts of a sizeable Wells-Fargo shipment. Quincannon also gets roped into a case of a ghost seen near a neighborhood known as Carville-by-the-Sea. As it turns out, the cases are all connected. Sherlock Holmes returns, evading their attempts to find his real identity and once again knowing more about their investigations than seems possible.

Pronzini and Muller obviously know and love San Francisco, and those who like well-researched historical mysteries will like these books. The stories move right along, but even the peripheral characters are three dimensional enough to make you wonder if you'll see them again. While the convergence of plots can sometimes burden credulity, the quick pace means you won't mind.  In conclusion, being in the hands of two of Mystery Writers of America's Grand Masters is a great place to be, whenever and wherever that is.