The Bughouse Affair
Review: Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, equal business partners — emphasis on business — in a San Francisco private detective agency, take on two separate cases, only to discover they may be linked in The Bughouse Affair, the first mystery in this series by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini.
Sabina has been hired by a local amusement park, where a pickpocket has been operating, the culprit suspected to be a woman. As a former investigator with the Pinkerton International Detective Agency — and one of their best "Pink Roses" — she quickly identifies the "dip" as Clara Wild, but loses her in the confusion after her latest mark collapses on the ground as she lifts his watch. She later learns that the method the Clara uses — stabbing a man in the abdomen with a hair pin, causing them to bend over in pain as she relieves them of their valuables — may have resulted in one victim's death … meaning she's not only a thief, but a killer as well. Meanwhile, Quincannon — a former operative with the Secret Service — has been hired by an insurance company to look into a series of home burglaries, the victims (to date) having been clients. Quincannon deduces who the next target may be, but is foiled in his attempt to capture the burglar — who he believes to be one Dodger Brown — by none other than Sherlock Holmes. When Sabina finds Clara murdered, she can't help but wonder if the woman's last consort may have been involved. That person: Dodger Brown.
As a period mystery, The Bughouse Affair works well. 1890s San Francisco is realistically depicted, with details on mannerisms, dress, social codes, and more unobtrusively peppered throughout. The mystery storyline itself unfolds nicely, alternating (more or less) between chapters from each character's point of view. And while it is a plot convenience to have Sabina and Quincannon's cases converge, it is done in a manner consistent with the actions of all involved. The characters themselves are appealing and creatively drawn … though the sexual tension that exists between them, granted far more from Quincannon than from Sabina, gets a little tiresome and doesn't seem strictly needed as a component of their respective character's profile and presumed development. The one element that seems really out of place here is the inclusion of Sherlock Holmes — or the person pretending to be him — in the story. As if Sabina wasn't foil enough for Quincannon — and she is — he has the "blasted Englishman" to deal with as well. It's not that Holmes is an unwelcome addition, just that it seems so unnecessary. (Based on a comment by Sabina towards the end, he will likely be a recurring character.) Still and all, this is an enjoyable mystery and a good start to a promising new series.
Acknowledgment: Forge Books provided a copy of The Bughouse Affair for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Ever-Running Man
Warner Books (Hardcover), July 2007
ISBN-13: 9780446582421; ISBN-10: 0446582425
Location(s) referenced in The Bughouse Affair: San Francisco, California
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The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini — A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: January 2013
List Price: $24.99