(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JULY 15, 2005)
West, where the Perdido eases off to sea level, it moves lazily around sandbars and between white sand beaches, carrying with it kayakers, swimmers, and dogs splashing after Frisbees their owners have tossed. Many of these people are locals, but most are tourists, drawn here by the river’s recreational activities. Tourists, who are the lifeblood of Cape Perdido, the seaside town to the north. You watch them and think it is wonderful that all this has been preserved in its natural state for everyone’s enjoyment.
In Cape Perdido, Marcia Muller returns to the fictitious Northern California Soledad County of her last two standalone novels, Cyanide Wells and Point Deception. Although Rhoda Swift, the main character of Point Deception returns in a minor role (as she did in Cyanide Wells), Cape Perdido contains many new characters and new parts of Soledad County and this book should certainly be considered a standalone. Cape Perdido is another solid mystery that we are used to seeing from Marcia Muller, although for me, not as good as the other two in these series of standalones.
The residents of Cape Perdido (at the northwestern corner of Soledad County) are not happy about the potential diversion of water out of the Perdido River to Southern California (using very large bags loaded on ships) planned by Aqueduct Systems, a North Carolina based company. At the request of Friends of the Perdido River, a local environmental organization led by Bernina Tobin, help from Environmental Consultants Clearinghouse (ECC), a national organization that has helped prevent these operations in the past, is offered in the form of attorney Fitch Collier and community liaison specialist Jessie Domingo. Soon after Fitch and Jessie arrive from New York, things start happening, although not for the better that they had hoped. During a public demonstration of the waterbag by leaders of Aqueduct Systems, a sniper shoots a hole in the bag and soon thereafter several people end up missing. Jessie Domingo ends up more of a private investigator than a community liaison specialist as she tries to understand the relationships among the various residents and find some of the missing people, including Eldon Whitesides, the head of ECC who arrives to help Fitch and Jessie shortly after, only to quickly end up missing.
As in Cyanide Wells, Marcia Muller presents this book in different third person points of view. Although Cyanide Wells only had two points of view (with mostly infrequent changes), Cape Perdido has four, changing the point of view every few pages. The four include Jessie Domingo, the New York City-based community liaison specialist from ECC; Joseph Openshaw, a Soledad County environmentalist who has just recently returned to his hometown from Sacramento; Timothy McNear, the owner of a closed lumber mill that is being leased for the water conveyance and port for Aquedect Systems; and, Stephanie (Steph) Pace, the owner of the local restaurant, Blue Moon. Steph has old ties to both Timothy McNear (as the nanny to his children) and Joseph Openshaw (former lover) that are critical to the book. Although I had had some initial difficulty with this changing perspective in Cyanide Wells, the points of view changes in Cape Perdido were easier to follow and the changing perspective did give some insights that would not be available otherwise.
As is Marcia Muller’s strength, Cape Perdido has many realistic and interesting characters, with the best and most interesting being the four people from which Muller presents the points of view. In particular, the relationship between Step Pace and Joseph Openshaw and the internal struggles of Timothy McNear are very believable and well presented. Unfortunately, some of the other characters are not as well developed or believable and that may be a result of the limitations of only using the four points of view. I found Bernina Tobin annoying (presumably Muller wants the reader to feel this way) and also fairly unrealistic. The ECC attorney Fitch Collier is also at bit plastic (the typical obnoxious lawyer), although he does appear to change as the reader gains better insight through the perspective of Jessie Domingo as she learns more about Collier. Overall though, I think I would have preferred this book in a more traditional third person perspective.
I’ve been reading Marcia Muller’s books for a long time, and have read all of her novels. I still prefer the Sharon McCone novels but Marcia Muller’s current method of alternating that series with these Soledad County standalone novels does provide some welcome variation.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Cape Perdido at TWBookmarks.com(back to top)
(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JULY 08, 2003)
Cyanide Wells, Marcia Muller's latest standalone novel, is a return to the fictitious Northern California Soledad County of her last standalone, Point Deception. Although some characters return, Cyanide Wells is a true standalone with new characters and new parts of Soledad County. It is also another solid mystery with realistic characters and many unexpected twists and turns.
When Gwen Lindstrom suddenly disappears from her Minnesota home, her husband Matthew Lindstrom is suspected as the murderer, particularly since their marriage was essentially over when Gwen disappears. Without a body, nothing is ever proven, but the distrust of the community causes Matthew to leave the area to begin his life again in British Columbia. Fourteen years after Gwen's disappearance, Matthew Lindstrom receives a phone call that Gwen is living in Cyanide Wells, Soledad County, California.
When Matthew visits Cyanide Wells, he learns that Gwen is now Ardis Coleman, an award-winning reporter for Soledad Spectrum, the local newspaper. Ardis is now working at home on a book about her award winning case. Matthew decides to fill the opening as a photographer for the newspaper to learn more about his former wife. He soon realizes that the editor of the paper, Carly McGuire is Gwen/Ardis' live-in lover.
This amusing excerpt shows Marcia Muller's fine use of dialogue and also explains how Matthew wins the photographer job as well as giving some insight into Carly:
"What's this?" Matt asked, staring at the red Ford pickup with the white camper shell on its bed and a Save the Redwoods sticker on its bumper. It was pulled up against the wall in the alley behind the building.
"The test," she said.
"You want me to take pictures of a truck?"
"I don't want you to take pictures of anything." She seized the strap of his camera bag relieved him of it, then slapped a key into his hand. "I want you to make it start."
She tapped the toe of her cowboy boot on the gravel. "You said small-paper experience. I don't know about the Port Royal Register-"
"Whatever. But here at the Spectrum we all pitch in to do whatever it takes to get the paper out. And if I can't get this truck started, I can't get the week's issue to the printer down in Santa Carla by six o'clock tonight. In all the years I've owned the Spectrum we've never missed press time."
"So if everybody pitches in to get the paper out, why haven't any of them already gotten the truck started? Or offered the use of their vehicles?"
McGuire's mouth drooped and she suddenly looked tired. "A couple of them tried and gave up. And I don't like to drive other people's vehicles."
Meaning other people didn't like to lend theirs to her. "How about calling a garage or Triple A?"
"I have a problem with the local garage. And I accidentally let my Triple A membership lapse. Can you fix it or not?"
Fortunately, he'd spent most of his life poking his nose into various engine compartments. "I can fix it."
After getting the photographer job, Matthew uses the cover to spy on Gwen at her house. However, he soon discovers that Gwen is missing once again. Matthew then joins forces with Carly McGuire to try to track down his ex-wife. Working separately and together, Matthew and Carly slowly uncover clues to Gwen's life and disappearance.
This book is presented in the third person point of view of both Matthew and Carly. The first change from Matthew to Carly occurs after 70 pages and the change in point of view was not distinctly different. I found the transition a bit difficult at first and became a bit confused thinking I was reading about Matthew instead of Carly. The changes in point of view become more frequent, but fortunately easier to follow.
I've been reading Marcia Muller's books for a long time, having first starting reading her from the books she wrote with Bill Pronzini, starting with Double, the only Sharon McCone/Nameless novel. Although I enjoyed both Cyanide Wells and Point Deception, I still prefer the McCone series more.
- Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Cyanide Wells at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer SEP 08, 2002)"We never did talk about that night again, not until last Saturday when Jude had that real bad seizure and was afraid another one would be the end of her. Yeah, she told me about the murders and the secret she kept all those years. But she sure didn't tell me anything as scary as what I remembered today."
Deputy Rhoda Swift meant to stop and help the young woman stranded along the highway. She was about to pull off the shoulder in front of the broken down Mercedes when another call came in, its urgency distracting her. By the time she came back, the young woman was gone. Guy Newberry has similar regrets because by the time he found a place to turn around she'd disappeared. A lot of the people of the small town of Signal Port have similar stories and regrets that they didn't get out and lend the young woman a hand. Now it's too late. Her body's been found, washed up along the coast, not long before the anniversary of another tragedy. Thirteen years ago two families were massacred out in Cascada Canyon. Rhoda was the first on the scene. Everyone in the town's life was changed forever by that event, and although they've learned to live with the fact that the murder has never been solved, and probably never will be, they can't get over the fact that the murderer is one of them. The young woman's death only serves to stir the whole thing up again, particularly when two other townswomen die.
Chrystal, the young woman whose car broke down, was there for a reason. Her story, and the story of the people of the Canyon are intertwined, and only by solving one crime, will Rhoda and Guy be able to solve the other. Rhoda and Guy are not particularly uncommon characters, but they're both well drawn, strong people that make the book a good read. Rhoda is scarred by the events 13 years ago, and is not really looking for redemption, more looking to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Guy is simularly scarred by his past. When he was a globe-trotting journalist, a political upheaval cost him the life of his wife, who he loved dearly. Now he's trying to use his skills as a writer to create a book about the Cascada Canyon murders, perhaps even find who did it. He is not looking to put the ghosts to rest; indeed, he talks to his wife all the time. His investigations open a window of opportunity for Rhonda, who doesn't want to relive the massacre, but feels that, perhaps, the journalist's opening of old wounds will prove cathartic for the town. Muller doesn't lay too heavily on the "you're an evil back stabbing reporter unless you prove otherwise" aspect, which I respect and liked. In these two characters, who get nearly equal book time, we get a nice balance between human frailty and the sort of character we want to live the story through, which makes for solid protagonists.
Although murdered, Chrystal is also a prominent character; Muller uses her in a very nifty writing device, every once in awhile there is a chapter told from Chrys's standpoint. In fact, it's Chrsytal's voice, a combination of schoolgirl and street-wise woman that we hear in our heads first. By weaving Chrys's pre-death adventures into the story we get an interesting view of the events. The reader is gifted with more information than the characters. This put me, as the reader, in a very interesting position. Sometimes I'd be willing Rhoda or Guy to look into a character a little deeper, or telling them not to even think of going into that place. I was also able to solve the mystery before them, but the book is written so that I was uncertain enough of my theory that when the end came I was both surprised and justified. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, because it was creative way of drawing the reader into the story.
Point Deception is a very good mystery. This genre, particularly where a woman cop is concerned, is getting harder and harder to do inventively. Muller does an impressive job of taking a fairly straightforward mystery and skewing it into an unpredictable direction. The idea that so many people -- including both main characters -- saw the murder victim before her demise and didnt help her really struck me. How many people have I passed along the road, and never stopped for, thinking, "Oh, it looks like she has a cell phone," or, "I'm just a lone woman, what can I do to help? Might get myself killed...."
It just doesn't bear thinking about, does it?
- Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Point Deception at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Sharon McCone Mysteries:
- Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977)
- Ask the Cards a Question (1982)
- The Cheshire Cat's Eye (1983)
- Games to Keep the Dark Away (1984)
- Leave a Message for Willie (1984)
- Double (1984)
- There's Nothing to Be Afraid Of (1985)
- Eye of the Storm (1988)
- There's Something in a Sunday (1989)
- The Shape of Dread (1989)
- Trophies and Dead Things (1990)
- Where Echoes Live (1991)
- Pennies on a Dead Woman's Eyes (1992)
- Wolf in the Shadows (1993)
- Till the Butcher's Cut Him Down (1994)
- A Wild and Lonely Place (1995)
- The McCone Files: collection of short cases (1995)
- The Broken Promise Land (1996)
- Both Ends of the Night (1997)
- While Other People Sleep (1998)
- A Walk through Fire (1999)
- McCone and Friends: collection (1999)
- Listen to the Silence (2000)
- Dead Midnight (July 2002)
- The Dangerous Hour (July 2004)
- Vanishing Point (July 2006)
- The Ever-Running Man (July 2007)
- Burn Out (October 2008)
- Locked In (October 2009)
- Coming Back (October 2010)
Elena Oliverez Mysteries
Joanna Stark Mysteries:
- Deceptions: 7 Stories (1991) (includes a Sharon McCone, Eleana Oliverz)
- Time of the Wolves: Western Stories (July 2003)
Written with Bill Pronzini:
- Double (1984) (A Sharon McCone and Nameless Detective Mystery)
- Beyond the Grave (1986) (A John Quincannon/Elena Oliverez Mystery)
- The Lighthouse (1987)
- Duo: Collected Stories (1998)
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- Official Website for Marcia Muller
- Books 'n Bytes review of Point Deception
- Mystery Reader review of Cyanide Wells
- WhoDunnit review of Cape Perdido
- MostlyFiction.com review of Vanishing Point and Ever-Running Man
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Dangerous Hour and Dead Midnight
- MostlyFiction.com review of Cape Perdido, Cyanide Wells, Point Deception
- MostlyFiction.com review of Locked-In
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About the Author:
Marcia Muller was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1944. She received her bachelor's degree in English (1966) and master's degree in journalism (1971) from the University of Michigan. Upon graduation she moved to San Francisco Bay area to work as merchandising supervisor for Sunset magazine and then freelanced feature articles for a number of publications.
Muller published her first mystery, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, in 1977. The novel introduced Sharon McCone, investigator for the All Souls Legal Cooperative in San Francisco. It is generally acknowledged that Muller is the first American author to write a mystery series featuring a female private eye.
She has written more than twenty-five novels and many short mystery stories and has also established a brilliant reputation as an anthologist and critic of mystery fiction. In 1993 she was awarded the Private Eye Writers of America Life Achievement Award, and Wolf in the Shadows was nominated for the 1994 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Crime Novel and won the Anthony Boucher Award.
She lives with her husband, mystery writer Bill Pronzini, in northern California.