"There's Something in a Sunday" by Marcia Muller
Marcia's not the greatest writer, by which I mean a person with a talent for fondling words. Here's one of her passages, chosen at random:
I shut the outside door and looked around. There was no furniture in the room other than a heavy antique sideboard, covered with what looked to be junk mail and what definitely was dust: The rough plastered walls were hung with Indian rugs; even to my untrained eyes they looked expensive.
This is a key description, a house central to the story. (I'm trying not to ruin the plot.) It's written like a shopping list by a half-asleep housewife. I find that capitalized "The" particularly mystifying. Actually, the one note I made in the book occurs on the same page:
There were dust mice -- no, dust rats -- lurking along the baseboards.
I've never heard of dust mice, only of dust bunnies. Maybe dust mice are the California version of dust bunnies. Or did Marcia get confused with the phrase "dust mites"?
I didn't intend to quibble with There's Something in a Sunday. It's a moderately successful mystery tale -- I didn't guess the numerous culprits -- with a complex plot which I believe makes sense. But as sociology, it's superb. (Are all mystery novels sociology? Must be.) Muller captures with unintentional accuracy the San Francisco of 1989, painfully transitioning from the last vestiges of Hippie into the dawn of High Yuppie. (Even the title suggests the move from marijuana to reading the Sunday New York Times.) Everyone is depressed, and drinking increasingly better wine. Each day the cuisine and the coffee improves, and life gets worse. About a third of the characters are on the verge of suicide, including possibly the narrator. (Of course, no one will actually kill themselves; that's not how California works.) Gay people are completely invisible. But not the homeless: they're a troubling new presence in cities.
Muller, I forgot to say, is a leftist. This might be the best liberal detective novel ever written. Her character, Sharon McCone (a weird name!) is a lawyer at the All Souls Legal Cooperative, an activist organization in a Victorian house in the Mission -- in fact, some of the lawyers live in the small rooms upstairs. All Souls began by defending the poor, and is gradually moving into regular law. Living under George Bush I, it's difficult to be a saint. Besides, everyone's exhausted, but tormented with guilt about it.
About all that's left is feminism, which largely motivates There's Something in a Sunday; but a shrewd, almost bitter feminism. Women are driven to immense selfishness because they're oppressed -- especially good-looking women. They're difficult to love, which makes them more manipulative. Nonetheless, we must defend our sisters. This is Marcia Muller's final message in this 8th Sharon McCone mystery.
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