by Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
In this first of a new series of lighthearted historical mysteries set in 1890s San Francisco, former Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her detective partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon, undertake what initially appear to be two unrelated investigations. Sabina’s case involves the hunt for a ruthless lady “dip” who uses fiendish means to relieve her victims of their valuables at Chutes Amusement Park and other crowded places. Quincannon, meanwhile, is after a slippery housebreaker who targets the homes of wealthy residents, following a trail that leads him from the infamous Barbary Coast to an oyster pirate’s lair to a Tenderloin parlor house known as the Fiddle Dee Dee. The two cases eventually connect in surprising fashion, but not before two murders and assorted other felonies complicate matters even further. And not before the two sleuths are hindered, assisted, and exasperated by the bughouse Sherlock Holmes. Fans of Marcia’s Muller’s bestselling Sharon McCone novels and Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series will applaud this and future exploits from the annals of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services
Bughouse: an insane asylum, mentally deranged, crazy. First know use: 1891
The Bughouse Affair the first book in a new historical mystery series set in San Francisco during the 1890’s offered up interesting characters and two cases that become intertwined. The tale features former Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, a former secret service agent who together have opened their own detective agency. I quickly became caught up in the mysteries and the character claiming to be none other than Sherlock Holmes himself.
The detective offices of Carpenter and Quincannon have two cases they are working on. He is working on a case for an insurance company where a series of burglaries involving insurance holders leads them to believe someone has gotten a hold of their client list. She is trying to catch a clever pickpocket who is robbing people at Chutes Amusement Park and affecting their business. The two cases seem completely unrelated but clues begin to make them fear otherwise. While trying to apprehend the housebreaker, Quincannon is detained by a man professing to be the dead man Sherlock Holmes. The tale that unfolds was suspenseful, witty and reminded me of old detective novels.
Muller and Pronzini did an excellent job of introducing us to Carpenter and Quincannon. I got a real sense for these quirky detectives and found them to be amusing and confident. I loved how Holmes unnerved them, especially the overly confident, easily ruffled Quincannon. Sabina is still mourning the loss of her husband, a former detective at Pinkerton and he has made his feelings for her well known. I found their banter to be delightful and funny. While there is no romance in this first book, the possibility is there. Holmes or whoever this man is was perfectly portrayed as the pompous, long-winded detective himself. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes involving him and his clever sleuthing skills. The cast of suspects, informants, and clients all added to the tale and were well fleshed out as well.
The world building and use of period language were very well done. The author(s) descriptions of both San Francisco and the people of this era came to life. The plot unfolded at a nice pace and escalated towards the end with a few twists to my delight. I did figure out the case before it was revealed and thought the how and why was clever. I found the terminology for criminals and other creatures that inhabited the shadier streets to be fascinating. It does slow the reading pace as there are a lot of terms, suspects, places, and facts to take it but it was such fun! I am looking forward to their next case.
I recommend The Bughouse Affair to fans of mysteries, crime and detective novels. I am looking forward to continuing this series and will be on the lookout for more work by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini.
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