Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books: Special: Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini Day

(information found on various online sources and may not be up to date)

A native of the Detroit area,in the early 1970s, having moved to California, Marcia Muller began experimenting with mystery novels because they were what she liked to read. After three manuscripts and five years of rejection, EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES, the first novel featuring San Francisco private investigator Sharon McCone, was published by David McKay Company, who then cancelled their mystery list. Four more years passed before St. Martin's Press accepted the second McCone novel, ASK THE CARDS A QUESTION.
In the ensuing thirty-some years, Muller has authored over 35 novels--several in collaboration with husband Bill Pronzini--seven short-story collections, and numerous nonfiction articles. Together she and Pronzini have edited a dozen anthologies and a nonfiction book on the mystery genre. In 2005 Muller was named a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America, the organization’s highest award. Pronzini was named Grand Master in 2008, making them the only living couple to share the award (the other being Margaret Millar ad Ross Macdonald). The Mulzinis, as friends call them, live in Sonoma County, California.

Bill Pronzini (born April 13, 1943) is an American writer of detective fiction. He is also an active anthologist, having compiled more than 100 collections, most of which focus on mystery, western, and science fiction short stories.
He published his first novel, The Stalker, in 1971. However, his best known works are the Nameless Detective series, which he began in 1971. As of April, 2009, there are more than 35 books in the series, as well as a number of short stories.
His books have been translated into nearly twenty languages, and have been published in more than thirty countries. William John Pronzini was born in Petaluma, California. He married mystery writer Marcia Muller in 1992. They have collaborated on three novels: Beyond the Grave (1986), The Lighthouse, (1987); and Double (1984), a Nameless Detective novel, as well as on numerous anthologies.
In 1987 he won The Eye, the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by The Private Eye Writers of America. It is a more exclusive version of their Shamus Award. He has been nominated three times by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar Award, and received their Grand Master designation in May 2008.

Bill Pronzini/Marcia Muller.(from Jeff Meyerson)

I had a tough time deciding what to do about this (and almost left it too late), as these are two of my favorite mystery writers and have been for a long time.  In checking my Authors list, I see I've read 75 titles (putting him at #4) by Bill Pronzini, including non-fiction, westerns, and a lot of short story collections, and 48 (#9) by Marcia Muller.  The first book of his I read was The Stalker in 1974, while the first Muller was Edwin of the Iron Shoes in 1986. 

The other reason I wanted to do this was that I have always been fascinated by authors who collaborate on books, and how they do it.  We all know the story of the cousins who became "Ellery Queen" 80-off years ago.  Pronzini and Muller have collaborated on a number of books in different series.  The first that I read was Double in 1994, a collaboration between Bill's "Nameless Detective" and Marcia's Sharon McCone, the two San Francisco private eyes.  This was done in a straightforward fashion, with alternating chapters from each character's point of view.  McCone teasingly calls him "Wolf" after a story calling him "the last of the lone-wolf private eyes" (we now know his name is Bill) when they meet at a private eye convention in San Diego, and the book works well.

The duo have since worked together on short stories, both mystery and western, and are currently co-writing a series started by Bill alone years ago with 1985's Quincannon, featuring the Barbary Coast detective agency of Carpenter and Quincannon, in the San Francisco of the 1890's.  But the one I wanted to mention particularly was the second Quincannon book, as it was a collaboration bringing him together with Muller's second sleuth, museum director Elena Oliverez.  Beyond the Grave begins with Oliverez buying a Mexican wedding chest and discovering a report from John Quincannon inside.  He wrote it in the 1890s; the case was unfinished and Oliverez tries to finish solving it in the 1980s.  This works quite well and if you only know them from the Nameless and McCone series, you might give this one a try.  There were two earlier Oliverez books, by the way.

                                                                                                                        Jeff Meyerson

VANISHING POINT, Marcia Muller. (Patti Abbott)

The VANISHING POINT won the Shamus for best private eye novel the year of its publication, 2006. Sharon McCone, Muller's PI, had been turning up regularly since her first outing in EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES.

In VANISHING POINT, Sharon is newly married, has recently located her birth mother, and has a thriving practice. Although the book does not spend much time on any of these issues, there is enough detail to give the reader a good sense of her new (and old) life. I admired the way Muller wove these details in without slowing down her current investigation a bit.

This case concerns the disappearance of Laurel Greenwood some twenty years earlier. Her older daughter, with the support of her husband, wants to put the story of her mother to rest. Greenwood was a landscape painter who often ventured far afield to pursue her work. This time she did not return. Mr. Greenwood, a cold father, has recently died. There are many questions about his handling of this disappearance and what he did and did not do.

As you might expect there are lots of twists and turns here. And the story crosses back and cross over the twenty years. McCone is very good at giving every character a personality and the surprises were consistent with it. I would like to know more about McCone's personal life, which seems complex and interesting. I always appreciate an author who gives her protagonist a rich life and although this book didn't spend a lot of time on it, there was enough to make me want to read more.

Sergio Angelini, THE VANISHED (P)
Bill Crider, A RUN IN DIAMONDS, Alex Saxon (P)
Curt Evans, BONES(P)
Ed Gorman,ZIGZAG, (P)
Rob Kitchin, THE VANISHED (P)
B.V. Lawson, THE ETHNIC DETECTIVE, Pronzini and Greenberg
Steve Lewis, DOUBLE
Todd Mason, CRIMINAL INTENT, Novellas by M + P
Matthew Paust, DOUBLE (M + P)
James Reasoner, MIKE SHAYNE AT WORK (P) (with Jeff Wallman)
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE BUGHOUSE AFFAIR (M + P)

And others
Mark Baker, LIVE FREE OR DIE, Jesse Crockett
Joe Barone, AN AUTHOR BITES THE DUST. Arthur Upfield
Elgin Bleecker, A Hitchcock Truffaut Inrtervew
Brian Busby, Three Titles Deserving Resurrection
Martin Edwards, DEATH OF A QUEEN, Christopher St. John Spriggs
Richard Horton, TIDES, Ada and Julian Street
Margot Kinberg, COPTOWN, Karen Slaughter
Steve Lewis, SEA FEVER, Ann Cleeves
Neer, VICTORIAN VILLAINES, Graham and Greene
Richard Robinson, ESCAPADE, Walter Satterthwait
Gerard Saylor, MONSTER, Dave Zeltserman
TomCat, SIX WERE PRESENT. E.R. Punshon


neer said...

Hi Patti

Here's my FFB: The Penguin Book of Victorian Villainies (ed) Graham and Hugh Greene


TracyK said...

Thanks, Patti. I have been looking forward to this special feature on Pronzini and Muller.

Sergio(Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great to celebrate this duo Patti - thanks.

Jerry House said...

I love Sharon McCone but Elana Oliverez is my favorite Muller character.

Graham Powell said...

I didn't manage to put up a post, but Bill Pronzini is one of my favorite writers (I'm less familiar with Muller's work). As good as he is at novels, he's a GREAT short story writer, and "Skeleton Rattle Your Mouldy Leg" is one of the greatest PI stories ever. Plus, I once did a school report on the poetry of "Archie & Mehitabel", which features in that story.. Seriously, you gotta read CASEFILE at least.

Todd Mason said...

And Then there are the Other Pronzini collaborators: the four novels, five anthologies and 75 stories with Barry Malzberg, I'm not sure how many books with Martin Greenberg aside from the cited, Colin Wilcox...

Yvette said...

I opted out this week, Patti, because I hadn't read any Pronzini or Muller. But now I see that I could have done a post about another author. AND I realize that we've always had that option. My brain must have been momentarily frazzled. It's been that way since the election.

Rick Robinson said...

I forgot about the special FFB. Too much going on, have been (am) sick, plus holidays etc. so sorry, I'll try to do better.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Also with Jeffrey Wallmann.

Patti, you're right about McCone. Unlike so many series, this one has evolved greatly from the early days, as she left the nest of All Souls Legal Coop where she worked, went out on her own, eventually started her own business with great success, and finally got married. And each of the regular characters in the series has his or her own role, life, and personality.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I have missed FFB. I'll try and make a comeback in 2017.

Todd Mason said...

Muller's McCone narration, even more than her other characters', is conversational and not so much pared down but lean that it allows for not only clear identification with McCone/Muller, but also the propulsion of the plot while exploring all the tangential details that enrich our view of McCone's world.

Todd Mason said...

BEYOND THE GRAVE definitely has the trickiest premise.

Todd Mason said...

Elgin Bleecker has one:
HITCHCOCK, Francois Truffaut with Helen Scott

Yvette said...

Patti, Martin Edward's link isn't working properly. It links to Todd Mason's post rather than Edwards.

Steve Lewis said...


I've had my review of DOUBLE ready to post for a couple of weeks now, but I seem to have lost track of what day it was. Here's the link, belatedly:



Kevin R. Tipple said...

While I have read every Muller, I believe I have never read a Bill Pronzini. So, when Barry had a new review that featured both it made far more sense to have that on my blog than a repeat review of a Muller work.

As always, I thank you for including my blog once again.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous idea for a special feature, Patti!

Bill Pronzini said...

The special tribute to Marcia and me came as a nice surprise. Very good of you to arrange it and much appreciated. Marcia was particularly pleased with your review of VANISHING POINT, a novel we both consider to be among her best. All thanks from Mulzini House!

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are the first living writers we have done. What a great place to begin. We are all huge fans of both your work so it was a pleasure and a nice Christmas present. Hundreds of people stopped by to look yesterday. Thanks for giving us such a great body of work(s) to search through.

Mathew Paust said...

Wifi here at the public library has been ponderous the last couple fo days. Driving me mad. I'll try again tomorrow to read and review this tantalizing list. Thanks for putting it together, as always, Patti.

Mathew Paust said... and comment on--sheesh!

Bill Pronzini said...

Thanks for those nice words, too, Patti. Happy holidays.

jhegenbe said...

This is so namelessly super! Whish I'd been on the ball and joined in. I know that I've read close to 50 of their books.