by Bill Pronzini, Marcia Muller
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
In 1895 San Francisco young debutantes don’t commit suicide at festive parties, particularly not under the eye of Sabina Carpenter. But Virginia St. Ives evidently did, leaping from a foggy parapet in a shimmer of ghostly light. The seemingly impossible disappearance of her body creates an even more serious problem for the firm of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services. Sabina hadn’t wanted to take the assignment, but her partner John Quincannon insisted it would serve as entrée to the city’s ultra rich and powerful. That means money, and Quincannon loves the almighty dollar. Which is why he is hunting the bandit who robbed the Wells, Fargo office of $35,000. Working their separate cases (while Sabina holds John off with one light hand), the detectives give readers a tour of The City the way it was. From the infamous Barbary Coast to the expensive Tenderloin gaming houses and brothels frequented by wealthy men, Quincannon follows a danger-laden trail to unmask the murderous perpetrators of the Wells, Fargo robbery. Meanwhile, Sabina works her wiles on friends and relatives of the vanished debutante until the pieces of her puzzle start falling into place. But it’s an oddly disguised gent appearing out of nowhere who provides the final clue to both cases—the shrewd “crackbrain” who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Fans of Marcia’s Muller’s bestselling Sharon McCone novels and Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series will applaud The Spook Lights Affair and future exploits from the annals of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services.
Earlier this year I enjoyed the first Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery novel, The Bughouse Affair, by authors Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. Set in 1800’s San Francisco it features two detectives and the cases they encounter. I was thrilled to enter their world once again in the Spook Lights Affair. While each can be read as a standalone, there are overall arc threads. Mini review: suspenseful, and engaging with lively characters. A thoroughly entertaining mystery.
Carpenter & Quincannon Detective Agency is still in its youth so when a high profile client asks Sabina to babysit their spirited young daughter she grudgingly accepts. The young woman in question is Virginia St. Ives. On a foggy night, while attending a ball, and under the watchful eye of Sabrina, she commits suicide and the body vanishes. This turn of events creates scandal and serious problems for the C & Q Detective Agency. Sabina is determined to figure out what happen and clear her good name. Meanwhile, Quincannon has set his sights on solving the recent robbery of the Wells Fargo train and earning the agency a hefty reward of 3, 500 dollars. The two are working feverishly on their own cases when a third case involving ghostly apparitions falls into their lap. They gain clues from the man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. (Who reportedly died in England at the hands of Dr. Moriarty) Clues and suspects had me flipping the pages, and the mystery that unfolded held me captive.
Quincannon and Sabrina are strong, opinionated and brilliant at their work. She previously worked as a Pinkerton operative until her husband was killed in the line of duty. He is ex-Secret service and quite infatuated with Sabrina. She chooses to ignore his advances all of which I find delightful. The two are in a lot of ways total opposites. He is stingy and doesn’t believe in tipping, and she leaves food on her stoop for a homeless woman. They make an incredible team; yin and yang. There is a light romance developing between them, and while little advancement is made you can see hints of it unfolding. This subtle thread intrigues me without distracting from the mysteries and in my opinion is quite cleverly done. The man who refers to himself as Sherlock Holmes appears again. He is quite a mystery, and I am curious to learn more. Villains, suspects and clients, were colorful and added to the suspense.
Spook Lights Affair offered an excellent addition to the Carpenter & Quincannon Mystery series, solidifying it as a one I will continue. The authors furthered our connection to these characters and again offered up mysterious cases. The adventure kept me entertained as I traveled the streets of San Francisco. We mingling with the upper and lower classes, and it offered us an opportunity to see each of them at work. The tale has enough details regarding 1895 San Francisco to bring the scenery to life, yet allows the cases to be at the forefront making time and place irrelevant. There were clever twists surrounding all three cases and the weaving of them was brilliantly done. While admittedly this Holmes and Christie enthusiast pieced things together, the search for clues and the plot was highly entertaining. I am looking forward to my next adventure with this dynamic duo.
Fans of light detective mysteries and engaging characters will find the Spook Light Affair to be an engaging read. Marcia Miller and Bill Pronzini are an impressive team, and I encourage you to check out the Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery series.
Four cups of coffee out of five
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