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MARCIA MULLER (b. 1944)

Marcia Muller has won her way into the record books of detective fiction as the creator of the first well-known, fully licensed, totally believable, hard-boiled female private investigator. While Muller has used two other women sleuths, both amateurs, Sharon McCone remains her best-known creation.

Muller was born in Detroit and studied English and journalism at the University of Michigan before moving to California, where she worked on the staff of Sunset magazine, as an interviewer in San Francisco for the University of Michigan 's Institute of Social Research, and as a partner in Invisible Ink, a consulting service for writers.

Although Maxine O'Callaghan introduced a female private eye, Delilah West, in a 1974 short story, Muller's first McCone mystery, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, published in 1977, is credited with establishing conventions for such characters that are still observed today. Muller provided her sleuth with a family of characters that includes professional associates at the All Souls Legal Cooperative in San Francisco. She also endowed her with a sense of humour, a mission to see justice prevail, and a concern for the powerless. Many of McCone's cases arise from problems faced by people whom she knows personally, and they take place in notably realistic settings, generally in California. The verbal skills-in particular, the interviewing expertise-that McCone employs are very significant to solving her cases, making verbal acuity another strength emulated by later writers.

Muller's two other series characters are Elena Oliverez, curator at the Museum of Mexican Arts in Santa Barbara, and Joanna Stark, who heads an art security firm. The books in which these characters appear often focus on secrets of the past that affect the present.

In addition to producing fiction, Muller is an accomplished critic and anthologist having collaborated on a dozen books, including three detective novels written with her husband, Bill Pronzini. In Double, for instance, the story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of Muller's McCone and Pronzini's detective, Nameless.

Benny's Space provides an excellent illustration of Muller's technique: McCone's confident personality emerges; the problem she confronts is contemporary; the sociology of the neighbourhood is genuine; the dialogue rings true; and, despite the brevity the form requires, Muller's quick sketches bring even the secondary characters so fully to life that the reader is truly moved by their circumstances.


Chees Witch | The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories | Bennys Space