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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT by Max Tomlinson: Book Review

After spending ten years in prison for killing her husband when she discovered that he was sexually abusing their daughter, Colleen Hayes is trying to put her life back in order.  But she’s not having an easy time of time of it.

She is currently living in an empty office belonging to the H & M Paint company.  It’s located in a derelict warehouse whose owners are giving Colleen a meager salary and a roof, the latter somewhat leaky, over her head in exchange for providing security for the rundown site.  She’s on parole and broke, so when she is approached to find out what happened eleven years earlier to the daughter of wealthy businessman Edward Copeland she takes the job.

Copeland’s daughter Margaret was brutally murdered during the so-called Summer of Love, when approximately 100,000 young people converged on San Francisco in search of drugs, free love, and an alternative lifestyle.  Margaret was one of those teenagers, rebelling against the lives of her parents, but her rebellion led to death.  Her father, who now has only months to live, wants to find out what really happened to her, as he never believed the official conclusion of the city’s police department.

The more Colleen investigates, the more a coverup seems possible, even probable.  Her every request for information is blocked, and her best source, a retired detective, is obviously hesitant to talk to her.  When he finally and reluctantly agrees, after Colleen offers him five hundred dollars for the report he wrote on the case, they plan to meet again later that day so she can get the money and he can give her the report he’s kept at home all these years.  But he’s a no-show, and his wife absolutely refuses to tell Colleen anything she knows.

And then there’s the man with the glasses and the tightly knit hat who is stalking a teenage girl, looking for his opportunity.  He has all his supplies ready–chloroform, handkerchief, plastic dry-cleaning bag.  Who is he?

Colleen’s personal life is messy too.  Because she’s on parole after her years in prison, she needs a permanent, approved address, and the room she’s been using in the deserted warehouse doesn’t meet the criterion.  Her daughter, now a member of a cult, won’t see her, and Colleen is sexually intrigued by the daughter of her client.

Things are getting out of control, but the events in Colleen’s history have taught her to persevere.  So in spite of the roadblocks put in her way by the San Francisco police force, the antagonism of the former detective’s wife, and the difficulty of finding the solution to Edward Copeland’s daughter’s murder before his imminent death, she continues her investigation.

The tension of the plot and the strong characters make Vanishing in the Haight a perfect thriller.  According to the book’s jacket, this is the first novel in the Colleen Hayes series.  I can’t wait for the next one.

You can read more about Max Tomlinson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



Theophania Bogart has fled England, where her aristocratic father hanged himself in his cell while awaiting trial for murder.  She’s taken a new last name, moved to San Francisco, found an apartment, and opened a gift shop featuring luxury items for bed and bath.  She’s content in her new home, fervently trying to guard her privacy.  Then a death that occurs literally before her eyes changes everything.

Tim Callahan, Theo remarks in the opening sentence of The Man on the Washing Machine, was a petty thief, a cheat, and a bully.  He was also the neighborhood handyman, so going in and out of the various apartments gave him lots of opportunity for pilfering.  In fact, he stole a pair of earrings that belonged to Theo’s late mother, and even though she had gotten them back she never allowed him in her apartment again.

The San Francisco police department immediately suspects that someone pushed Callahan out of the third story window directly opposite Theo’s apartment, and Inspector Lichlyter starts to interrogate everyone in the immediate vicinity.  Since Theo is the only one who saw Callahan fall, she becomes the main object of the police inquiry, making her wonder just how much longer her background and her secret will be safe.

Distracted by the divisiveness of her neighborhood association’s meeting following Callahan’s death, Theo’s antenna for self-preservation slips a little, and when she returns from walking her dog Lucy she’s not paying as much attention as usual to her surroundings.  As she climbs up the back stairs to her apartment and opens the door to the utility room, her thoughts are wandering.  In the room’s bright overhead light she sees, to her complete astonishment, a man in a business suit standing on top of her washing machine.

Theo Bogart is a feisty heroine with a fascinating background.  Daughter of a wealthy English family, she was a well-known paparazza and had photographed celebrities around the world.  But she changed her life when she arrived in the United States, giving away her Christian Louboutin heels and Chanel handbags to charity and clothing herself in long-sleeved T-shirts and jeans.  She’s determined to stick to these changes and to her new name, but a second murder makes that even more difficult.

The Man on the Washing Machine won the 2015 Minatour Books/Mystery Writers of America prize for First Crime Novel.  It’s easy to see why.  Heroine Theo is delightful, smart, and determined to succeed in her new life.  And the mix of neighbors–her Japanese-American gardener, her gay best friend who is having romantic problems with his partner, her own business partner who seems to be more and more removed from the business–all add to the quirkiness around her.  And when a new neighbor enters the picture, with the possibility of a romance that Theo would like to avoid, things get really interesting.  All the characters and the author’s familiarity with the San Francisco scene make this debut novel stand out.

You can read more about Susan Cox at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

LOCKED IN by Marcia Muller: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series ever since I read Edwin of the Iron Shoes. That was back in 1982, and both Shar and I have aged (gracefully, I’d like to think) ever since.

In the latest series’ entry, Locked In, Shar is shot in her San Francisco office late one night. When she awakens several days later, she is told she’s a victim of locked-in syndrome, something that will be familiar to readers/viewers of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  The author of that novel, Jean-Dominique Bauby, wrote his memoir while virtually a total prisoner of his body–victims of locked-in syndrome can neither talk nor move, but they are able to hear, see, and understand everything that’s said to them.  In Bauby’s case, the locked-in syndrome was caused by a massive stroke; in Locked In, the bullet to Shar’s brain had the same devastating effect.

Hy Ripinsky, Shar’s husband, and all her colleagues at the McCone Agency, are working to find the person who shot her.  There’s her nephew Mick, the computer whiz; Rae Kelleher, married to Mick’s country singer father and a private investigator; Julia Raphael, former prostitute turned P.I.; and several others.  Their only hope is that one of the agency’s still-to-be-solved cases is behind the attack, and so they are determined to find the culprit.

In fact, there are several unsolved cases at the McCone Agency that may have a bearing on the murder attempt.  There’s corruption in San Francisco’s city hall, a young street walker who turns up dead and is not identified, a missing man.  Are they all separate, or is there something tying them together that can shed light on what happened to Sharon McCone?

One of the best things about this series is following Shar’s life. In my March 9th About Marilyn blog, I wrote how important it is to me to know the back story about the lead in a series.  I didn’t mention Marcia Muller in that post, and I should have.  Of all the mystery writers I can think of, Muller has done the best job of creating not only a back story but a continuing story for her heroine.   Each book reveals a bit more.

Shar is one of six siblings, and each one has his/her own distinct history.  In the more than two dozen novels in this series, Shar and family have been through a lot–marriages, divorces, remarriages, suicide, the truth about Shar’s birth, and more.  It makes Shar real, someone the reader can identify with, even if the reader cannot quite put herself or himself in Shar’s many life-altering or life-threatening adventures.

Marcia Muller has been quoted numerous times saying that she’s tired of being referred to as the “founding mother of the hardboiled contemporary female private investigator”; that by now, given the number of excellent female private eyes, she’s more like the grandmother.  It’s true that there are now dozens of women following in the footsteps of Muller/McCone, but few who do it so well.