Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Notes — Finding That San Francisco Bay Area Crime Novel

I often write about resources for mystery readers. Click on mystery book stores on the right side of this page and you’ll have a current list of shops around the country that specialize in mysteries. On the left are The Thrilling Detective and The Rap Sheet icons. Both are comprehensive resources for those interested in the genre. I also write about San Francisco, especially its bookstores and neighborhoods. However, as the first full year of this blog comes to a close, I have yet to mention one of the most significant resources for mystery lovers, especially those who want the setting for their murders to be San Francisco and its environs. “Golden Gate Mysteries,” is a website that hosts a list of nearly 2,000 mysteries set, at least in part, here in the Bay Area. Randal Brandt manages the resource at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. And he keeps these extensive files current.

Please explore the site your own. There is no way I can do it justice here. But as a tease, let me relate my most recent trip through the electronic archives, a trip that surprised me in two ways. One was seeing the number of well-known authors who have no special connection to the Bay Area, but who have set at least one crime novel here. I found two famous authors I didn’t know wrote mysteries at all. Award-winning novelist and North Beach resident Herbert Gold wrote a mystery set here as did uber-best selling (I’ve never had the chance to use the word “uber.” I’m done with it now) author Danielle Steele, who just recently fled her mansion across the street from Lafayette Park for the apparently cleaner streets of Paris. However, you might be surprised to learn that Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, Erle Stanley Gardner, Sue Grafton, William T. Vollman, Charles Willeford, James Crumley, Richard Helms and Jeffrey Deaver have all set mystery or crime novels in the Bay Area. So have the MacDonalds, John D. and Ross. Gregory McDonald also.

The second surprise was the number of published home-grown or long-time area mystery writers who take advantage of the diversity of geography and people the area offers to plan a murder or two. The most famous, and probably the city’s crime fiction laureate is Dashiell Hammett. However there are others taking the world by storm — The Patterson boys (not related) James and Richard North keep the confusion going by both writing about the area. Local author

John T. Lescroart regularly finds his books on The New York Times Best Sellers List. We have others with national and international recognition — Bill Pronzini (who has written more than 40 books set here) and his wife Marcia Muller, who has written more than 30. And these don’t count the books they have written together.

Other local names of note: Domenic Stansberry, Jerry Kennealy, Lee Goldberg, Mark Coggins, Janet Dawson, Laurie King, Simon Wood, Lisa Lutz. One of my favorites, who has stopped writing mysteries, it seems, is Stephen Greenleaf. He wrote more than a dozen books set in San Francisco. The late Joe Gores wrote 16. Other writers no longer with us, but who added to the richness of Bay Area mystery scene, are Jack Lynch and Oakley Hall. There are many others of genuine talent — hundreds of them, perhaps some of your favorites — but too many to mention here. I’m sure I’ve missed some important writers. I encourage readers and writers to add their favorites in the comments section. All comments, including corrections, are welcome.

The San Francisco Bay Area may be the richest setting in the U.S. We have the rolling countryside of wine country, gritty urban neighborhoods, a broad diversity of population and cultural inclusion, top high tech industries, powerful corporations, a vast number of universities, marinas, breathtaking hills and an area with an immense international draw.There are hidden stairways, grand old homes and various forms of transportation — subways, trains and cable cars among them. From Chinatown to the Mission, from the financial district to Golden Gate Park and from the tough, down and out Tenderloin to the understated elegance and richness of Pacific Heights, there are settings to sustain any drama. Come to think of it, two of the city’s best known socialites — Merla Zellerbach and Pat Montandon have made contributions to the growing list of Bay Area mystery writers. And we can thank the Bancroft Library and Golden Gate Mysteries for keeping track of all of us.

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