Saturday, August 02, 2014


By Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini
A Forge Book
250 pages

There have been several husband and wife mystery-writing teams in the past but only two have ever both won the coveted MWA Grand Masters award; Margaret Millar and Ross McDonald and the authors of this book.  “The Spooks Lights Affair” is part of their Carpenter and Quincannon series and if this entry is representative of the earlier cases, we may have to go dig them up.

In 1895 San Francisco, Sabina Carter and John Quincannon are partners of a well known and respected private detective agency.  Although they usually work as a team, in this  book we find them handling their own individual cases. 

Carter has been hired by the wealthy St. Ives family to shadow their rebellious, overly romantic daughter, Virginia.  It has come to their attention that the girl has been seeing handsome young store clerk who does not meet their upper-crusty standards for an acceptable suitor.  Alas, the girl is frustrated by having the tenacious private eye on her heels constantly.  On a fog shrouded night, while both are attending a sumptuous gala hosted by the mayor; Virginia attempts to elude Carter and dashes up the side of a steep hill where she commits suicide by throwing herself off a cliff.

As tragic as these events are, they take a quick turn towards the mysterious when an extensive search of the area below the cliffs fails to find Virginia’s body.  It has somehow disappeared, vanished into thin air.

Meanwhile the always ambitious Quincannon is attempting to hunt down the solo bandit who robbed a local Wells Fargo office of thirty-five thousand dollars.  The bank has offered up a tidy reward for anyone who can find the culprit, bring him to justice and retrieve the stolen funds.  Thus it would seem the sleuthing partners are dealing with two separate cases.  But when they compare their notes, they discover that several of the people they are investigating have connections to one another.  How is dead girl’s older brother connected to one of the shadier figures involved with the bank heist?  What was the true role of the dead girl’s beau in her demise and subsequent disappearance?  Is he also part of the daring robbery?

The plot is complex and fun to follow.  Even more so is the authentic setting in which it plays out as Carter and Quincannon give us a wonderful tour of San Francisco in its gilded era from the infamous Barbary Coast to the rich Tenderloin gambling houses and garish brothels that catered to the city’s wealthiest men.  “The Spook Lights Affair” is both a terrific mystery plus a rollicking time-travel adventure populated with truly colorful figures both fictional and historical.  It is a fun romp by two masters of their craft who obviously enjoy working together much to their readers’ delights.

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