Monday, January 23, 2017

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzni, The Bughouse Affair

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzni, The Bughouse Affair:  A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
A Forge Book/Tom Dohrety Associates LLC © 2012
eISBN: 9781429997218

The first of 5 (so far) C&Q mysteries does an excellent job of taking us back to San Francisco in the 1890s (if there’s one problem, it’s what seems to me to be that Sabina Carpenter is too easily accepted by clients as an equal in the business).  John Quincannon is a former Secret Service agent and Sabina Carpenter is a former Pinkerton; both have suffered tragic losses.  Qunincannon asked Carpenter to join him in a private detective business in SF, and she agrees if and only if it was an equal partnership, to which he agreed.

They begin with separate cases—Carpenter is trying to identify and stop a pickpocket working an amusement park and Qunicanon has been hired to investigate a series of thefts from homes (of relatively well-to-do SF residents), all insured by the Great Western Insurance Company.  What appears as a sidelight is the appearance of a man in Ambrose Bierce’s column in the SF Examiner who claims to be Sherlock Holmes.

They begin their separate investigations, and, while Carpenter makes some progress, Quincannon does not.  His meeting with the insurance people lead him to believe that the thief has probably obtained information from someone at the insurance company (which, of course, has lists of the valuable insured), and he picks one of their other policy-holders as the next likely tasget.  And, although the thief does try to burgle the home he has staked out, Quincannon’s pursuit of him is interrupted by…”Sherlock Holmes,” who stops him as he is running through the yard of a home in which Quincannon is running.

The twin investigations proceed relatively smoothly, except that “Holmes” intrudes himself even more into the events.  And in a huge surprise the investigations begin to merge.  On the second stakeout (Quincannon and “Holmes”), the householder is murdered, in a locked room, so we have that to deal with.

In a scene worthy of a Golden Age author, everyone meets in the insurance company offices and Holmes offers up his solution (to a point), then Quincannon takes over (to a point) and Carpenter finishes off the tale.  It is all nicely done, and the succeeding books seem likely to be agreeable as well.

I’ll admit that I did find the “Holmes” something of an intrusion (which may be a failing on my part), and there is one plot point—from whom did the burglar get his information—that is just dropped.  But we have two pros here, and they do a professional, if not sensational, job.

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