Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini, The Spook Lights Affair

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, The Spook Lights Affair
Tom Doherty Associates LLC/A Forge Book © 2013
eISBN 978-1-4299-0722-5

(NOTE:  Do not read the concluding paragraph if you don’t want to encounter a minor spoiler.)

Sabina Carpenter has been hired to keep an eye on San Francisco socialite Virginia St. Ives, for the purpose of keeping her from seeing Lucas Whiffing, the son of a middle-class family (and a clerk in a bicycle and sporting goods establishment).  While she is in attendance at a major bash at the home of SF mayor Adolph Sutro, Virginia confronts Carpenter, rushes out of the house into a foggy night, and apparently throws herself off a patio overlooking a 250-foot drop.  Her body, when a search is made, is nowhere to be found.  And she left what clearly read as a suicide note.

Meanwhile, Carpenter’s partner John Quincannon has undertaken to recover $35,000 that has been stolen from Wells Fargo—the reward is 10% of whatever money is recovered.  And $3,500 is, even in SF, at least 2 years’ income in the mid-1890s.  He is following Bob Cantwell, who, he has learned, knows something about the theft.  After an unsatisfactory confrontation, Cantwell escapes; Quincannon follows him, only to discover him dead in an abandoned photographer’s studio.  All he has learned is that a man named Zeke and someone nicknamed The Kid are involved.

Both cases take unexpected turns, with Quincannon and Carpenter discovering some things at the scene of St, Ives’ disappearance that might help explain why her body was not found.  And Quincannon discovers that her brother David, Cantwell, and Whitting were all habitues of the same gambling establishment.  And a new client enters the picture…a financial advisor (Barnaby Meeker) who lives in the same rather disreputable area as does Whitting’s family wants to hire Carpenter and Quincannon to investigate ghostly apparitions that seem to be infesting the area around his (and Whitting’s) home.

Muller and Pronzini are pros, and they have created two likable and interesting characters.  The have also created a authentic-seeming backdrop to the action, and the supporting cast is also well drawn.  (This the second in a series; the first, The Bughouse Affair was also a smooth read.)  Carpenter and Quincannon pursue their investigations as (it seems to me) true professionals would, and, by the end of the book, the resolution is well done as well.  There is one aspect of the resolution, however, that has now been a feature of both of the books I have read so far that I  hope will not be a part of every book.  In both The Bughouse Affair and in this book, what begin as separate cases turn out to be one—in this case, Virginia St. Ives’ disappearance and apparent suicide is directly linked to—caused by the same forces—the Wells Fargo robbery.  It makes for a neat resolution, but a little of this sort of thing goes a long way.  But that’s a quibble, and it may not bother anyone but me.  This is a nicely constructed story, well told by two professionals, and ,more than worth your time.

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