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Review: "Trophies and Dead Things" by Marcia Muller (1990)

#39: Trophies and Dead Things by Marcia Muller:

I made two detours on my way to All Souls: first to pick up a pizza, so I wouldn't have to sponge off the folks who lived there (and probably have to eat some god-awful health food), and then to my house to pick up my gun.


Synopsis: In case you haven't had the pleasure, let me clarify: Sharon McCone is the shit.



The 14th mystery in Muller's Sharon McCone series, this is one of those happy accidents where I was wandering round my living room, wondering what to read, holding Muller's Point Deception in one hand, when I discovered that I had both Trophies and #15, Where Echoes Live shelved sideways next to the front door, just under the crap westerns section.

(What can I say, I spend a lot of time wandering around my living room. At least it keeps me off the streets.)

I think I read this book the first time when I was 10. I know I found the very first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes and rrrrrrrrripped right through the series like it was on fire, courtesy our quite excellently stocked public library, and I remember thinking then as I did now, holy crap, girl!PI.

I know, I know, my young onions, but back in the heady days of the 1980s, we didn't have girl PI's. We had shit like Mike Hammer and Glitterburn in great heaping spoonfuls and finally when Sharon McCone and Kinsey Milhone showed up, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was this whole idea that women could get PI licenses and get divorced and get shot at and do something in hardboiled mysteries besides get widowed and get pronged and it was just. So. Awesome. Still is.

In Trophies and Dead Things, San Francisco P.I. Sharon shows up bright and early one morning to help her boss clean out the house of a recently and suddenly deceased friend. As they sort through the guy's belongings, they discover that the notorious 60s Movement radical made a new will, leaving his considerable estate to four strangers and that in addition to baseball cards and oversized sweaters, the house is full of Secrets. Yessss, with a capital Esssss.

Ostensibly, McCone's job is to track down the four strangers and make them aware of their inheritances and see if they actually know the deceased guy in question. It's like a grown-up version of The Westing Game: one of these people is an ostler, another's a news anchor. One's a crooked lawyer and another's a drunk. Then the shooting starts.

I'm biased, because I love these books, but I can readily see that newcomers to the series will either love or hate Sharon McCone, right off the bat. She's prickly and emotionally closed-off and judgmental.

Frankly, these are all things I love about her, but you know, ymmv.

Muller's an honest enough writer that she shows the effects these characteristics have on the people around McCone, whether its the coworkers who watch her chase after a sniper in a bloodthirsty rage, or the fickle, unhinged ex-boyfriend who drops in at 6 a.m., or the Homicide detective who gets promoted out of McCone's life, leaving her with a sense of things moving on, leaving her behind. It's messy and it's complicated and it's all there in these pages.

The other thing that's there is San Francisco, in great fog-wreathed chunks. Just like Harry Bosch is inextricably entwined with L.A., McCone is part of the city by the bay, and it's hard to imagine her leaving, or more to the point, it's hard to imagine the city letting her leave.

I actually went looking for Muller books because of how well San Francisco's written in them. Offhand, I'm trying to think of someone else who writes that city as well as she does (a modern version, I mean. Stand down, all you Sam Spade defenders). Stephen Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner springs to mind, as does Lia Matera's Willa Jansson and Joanne Pence's Angie Amalfi mysteries, despite how much I want to clunk Amalfi in the head with a shovel. Can anyone suggest any others?

(Having said that, of course, I just found Golden Gate Mysteries. Oh internet, I heart you sometimes).

This time around, Trophies is starting to show its age, but in amusing, innocent ways. Like, can you imagine the SFPD blithely letting P.I.'s sit in on their investigations nowadays? On interrogations of subjects? McCone also uses more pay phones than Superman and idly contemplates how useful it would be to have that miracle of modern life, a car phone. Ooh! Now, these things come up in other, older detective novels it's true, but it's a testament to the strength of the series that other than those things, the book still reads as timely and relevant to today.

I quit reading this series back in the day, after #15, Where Echoes Live. Why? Who knows. I was about 13 or so, so either I got distracted by things like Valley of the Amazons or I entered that time-honored teen-gore-pulp stage, mainlining Bentley Little and Peter Straub. More likely than anything I just got distracted by the state of my hair. We've all been there.

Book #16 involves dolphin cartilege, so I'm not entirely sure when I'll be throwing myself on that particular grenade, but for now it's simply enough to be reminded Sharon's still in the world. In 2010, Muller published Coming Back, #28 in the series.
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