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The Breakers: A Sharon McCone Mystery


The Breakers: A Sharon McCone Mystery

Private detective Sharon McCone has “come a long way, baby,” to quote that old pop hit. She has risen from the 1970s hippy, badass, do-gooder, single champion for the underdog of Haight-Ashbury in her office on the San Francisco pier, to the 21st-century CEO of M&R Securities, an international high-tech agency she runs with her partner, Hy Ripinsky.

Sharon’s clientele now ranges from the homeless to the societal dignitaries of upper-crust San Francisco, so when she receives a call from old friends who are currently out of the country to look in on their daughter, Chelle, she swings into action. She drives out to the sketchy area known as the Outlands for a late-night meeting with a stranger, Zack Kaplan. Chelle has been letting Zack sleep in the crumbling old building that she is rehabbing into an apartment complex in return for watching over the comings and goings of the construction workers. Sharon learns that Zack is as concerned as her parents about her lack of response to calls and texts.

"In Sharon McCone, Muller has created a fully realized character, warts and all... Muller’s remarkable knowledge of the lore of one of America’s most fascinating cities provides a rich background to the narration."

As Zack gives Sharon a tour of the abandoned former nightclub, known as the Breakers, they note that Chelle’s personal effects remain behind in the area where she has been living. It is a difficult-to-access, low-ceilinged space between the original first-floor public area and the third-story hotel rooms above. In a secluded recess on that floor, they find a chilling sight. Tucked under a rafter is a wall posted with faded newspaper clippings of famous major horrific crimes --- the Zodiac and Zebra killers of the 1970s; Charles Manson; the assassinations of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk; the news coverage of Jim Jones, who led more than 900 families of his Peoples Temple to commit suicide in Guyana; and Scott Peterson, who killed his wife and unborn child on Christmas Eve 2002. There are no more clippings after that time period, so whoever created this wall of horrors is probably long gone. Or is he? A clear spot in the clippings looks to have been torn recently from the wall.

Zack readily provides names and contact numbers of Chelle’s contractors and introduces Sharon to some local acquaintances. As she begins her investigation, she learns that none have heard from Chelle for several days. When Zack also disappears from the construction site, her concern elevates to apprehension. She turns to M&R’s vast digital resources and skilled staff to hunt for Chelle and Zack in earnest.

In Sharon McCone, Muller has created a fully realized character, warts and all --- including her troubled multiracial family background, as her siblings and children grapple with changing times. We have been treated to some wild and wooly adventures with her lover and life partner, Hy. Muller’s remarkable knowledge of the lore of one of America’s most fascinating cities provides a rich background to the narration. We walk with her through the streets as she evokes the setting as palpably as if we were at her side through the moaning fog horns under the Golden Gate Bridge, or feel the chill damp as the fog rolls in from the seas.

As the author of 34 of these mysteries, Muller created Sharon McCone at approximately the same time as Sue Grafton introduced us to Kinsey Millhone. It is quite possible, in that ephemeral world of fiction, that the two had crossed paths as they brought to life the spirited female hard-boiled detectives of that era. I first encountered the McCone series in Muller’s first novel, EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES, at about the same time as I glommed onto Grafton’s famed Alphabet series. I became an avid reader of both heroines, devouring each with equal enthusiasm.

Muller can be rightfully acknowledged as San Francisco’s aficionado of fascinating historical places and events. She also co-authors a series featuring the late-19th-century detective duo, Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, with her husband, Bill Pronzini, bringing to life San Francisco before the Great Fire.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on August 17, 2018

The Breakers: A Sharon McCone Mystery
by Marcia Muller

  • Publication Date: March 26, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455538949
  • ISBN-13: 9781455538942