the exceptional specialty mystery bookstore in San Mateo, California,
hosted an in-store event with husband and
wife mystery writers Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. If the old
quip about California is true – "shake a palm tree and
a P.I. will fall out" – then Muller and Pronzini are
definitely contributing their share.
of the crime fiction.
This is a prolific writing
due who each publish one or two books a year and who collaborate
on another one or two annually. Between them, they're coming up
on the 100-book mark, with joint promises not to slack off on the
pace. Their literary productivity, awesome as it clearly is, is
far overshadowed by their literary quality that remains consistently
on top of the genre heap, whichever genre that may be.
Pronzini has penned
multiple westerns (and used some six pseudonyms) along with his long
running standard bearing "Nameless" detective series.
known, but definitely in the not-to-be-missed category for any mystery
reader, are Pronzini's two hilarious non-fiction works reveling in
the unsung failures, the bad writers, of detective fiction, 'Gun
in Cheek' and 'Son of a Gun in Cheek'.
('Six-Gun in Cheek'
gives equal time to bad western writing.) Many years ago, faced with
another "relocation", I went through a fierce and frenzied
book purge and sold both of these. Much later, older, wiser and now
embracing excess as a good thing, at least when it comes to books,
I of course had to buy them both back. The effort was neither easy
nor cheap. Like you haven't done that?
best of the worst.
Back in 80s, Sue
Grafton (having just started her assault on the "alphabet" mystery
series) described Marcia Muller the "founding mother of the
female hardboiled private investigator" – a label now
so often repeated as to probably warrant a proper burial. Grafton
got it half right. With the debut of Sharon McCone in 'Edwin of the
Iron Shoes' in 1977, Muller did indeed launch the first U.S. female
detective series, and twenty-five years and 22 books later, the McCone
series is still winner in the mystery genre.
But Muller's series
is not "hardboiled", never has been hardboiled in the traditional
meaning, and Muller has never succumbed to the need to make it so.
Leave it to others to write about tough/tender loners who store a
bottle of bourbon in their desk drawer, strew bodies with abandon
and wisecrack their way through wild monosylabic dialogue and even
wilder plots. Muller thankfully sticks with her gift of creating
realistic, believable, well-plotted, character-intensive mysteries
with a female detective. Muller, too, has a western under her belt
in addition to her Sharon McCone series, her new Soledad County series
and two other three-book series with female protagonists.
first Sharon McCone mystery now sells for about $175.00
And in their spare
time, Pronzini and Muller write short stories and edit anthologies.
Between the two of them, they fill a ceiling-to-floor bookcase in
my house, and will soon ooze into "overflow" space should
I be able to find any.
They are, in person, an appealing, relaxed and humorous pair with
a natural and easy affection and not a hint of competitive nudge.
Assured and mature, each knows their strengths and each supports
and edits the other. It was obvious in their bantering that they
know and care about each other's books as well as they know their
Pronzini was discussing
his newest releases – yes, that's
plural, 'Burgade's Crossing' (Five Star, $25.95) and 'The Alias
Man' (Walker Publishing, $24.00). 'Burgade's Crossing' is another
collection of western short stories featuring John Quincannon,
former US Secret Service agent and Sabina Carpenter, the widow
of a Pinkerton detective, who have joined to form Carpenter and
Quincannon, Professional Detective Services. Crippen & Landru published an earlier collection of Carpenter and Quincannon stories
back in 1998, a book well worth trying to chase down. Set in the
old west of the late 1800's, these stories are steeped in western
history, thoroughly researched and entrancingly presented, and
laced with a romantic tension, unfortunately highly one-sided,
that's tantalizing and entertaining without being treacley or overdone.
stories of the old West.
thriller -- qu'est que c'est?
Man' is a first for Pronzini, a psychological thriller
with three main protagonists who are all female. While it's challenging
for "he" to write "she" believably, Marcia
swears he got it right and he swears that his creative difficulties,
much to his surprise, arose from plotting (which, I suspect, he
can do in his sleep) not characterization. 'The Alias Man'
is the story of a wily and unscrupulous seducer whose three latest
female victims team up to seek justice (or is it revenge, or is
it both). Given Pronzini's active imagination and propensity for
unexpected twists and turns, it's got to be a winner.
Muller read briefly from her latest Sharon McCone novel, 'The
Dangerous Hour' (Mysterious Press, $25). The McCone series is one of the
few long-running detective series that has gotten better over time,
with consistently solid plotting and prose, and an ever-changing
cast of supporting characters and believable circumstances.
Muller's credit, there's not a cut-and-paste retread in the 23-book
series. McCone has aged and changed with grace and authenticity,
has clearly developed a better taste in men, and each book is reliably
readable and certifiably enjoyable. Muller recently began a new series
set in Soledad County with the novel 'Point
Deception'. She promised the next,
a book called 'Cape Perdido', would
latest Sharon McCone novel.
Q&A followed the reading and convivial banter between Muller
and Pronzini, and the first question surprised absolutely no one. "To
Mr. Pronzini. Will there be another "Nameless"? Thank
God he gave the right answer – not only one more "Nameless",
but two, already written and ready for release. Pronzini's new
publisher, Forge/Tor, has not yet announced the publication date,
but he brought the new book jacket, an enormous and well-warranted
step up in classy design.
Also promised, the release of the entire
Nameless series in paperback –way too long in coming. Question
two, a two-parter, also not a surprise to anyone in touch with
the genre: "To Mr. Pronzini. Will you keep writing Nameless
books?" (The demise of Nameless was, like Mark Twain's death,
inaccurately forecast a couple of years' back.) His answer – yes. "Will
you ever kill him off?" No. I slept well that night.