Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller,
The Spook Lights Affair
(Forge, 2014)

The Spook Lights Affair is a light mystery revolving around the apparent suicide of a debutante one foggy night during a party in San Francisco, 1895. Detective Sabina Carpenter was hired to look after the girl, so the tragedy is seen as a failure on her part. But Sabina senses that not all is as it seems, and she pursues her own investigation in order to salvage her agency's reputation.

Meanwhile, her partner, John Quincannon, is working on a $35,000 bank robbery case. How can he resist trying for the 10 percent reward? (It was a lot of money back then.)

I don't read a lot of historicals so this was something of a novelty for me. The setting feels authentic (and the authors assure us that it is, in their afterword), and the mist-shrouded streets have a lot of atmosphere. The novel's weakness lies in its dearth of characterization. The characters serve the plot and little more. I couldn't even tell you much about Carpenter and Quincannon themselves, for whom this is their second outing. John is an action man who likes poetry. He has a big crush on Sabina, but she prefers to keep their relationship professional. Sabina is a widow. That's about it. Any such information we do get is simply stated, rather than worked into the story naturally. The duo are likable enough; they just don't feel quite as real as the physical world they inhabit.

All in all, a pretty barebones mystery that I found less than satisfying.

book review by
Scott Promish

3 January 2015

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