Husband-and-wife MWA grand masters Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller deliver their second mystery featuring a male/female investigative team in 1890s San Francisco, The Spook Lights Affair: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery.
What is the origin of the Carpenter/Quincannon series?
BP: I invented the characters for a 1985 novel called Quincannon. At that time, John Quincannon was a U.S. Secret Service agent based in San Francisco and Sabina Carpenter was an operative for the Pinkerton agency. In 1986, I brought the two of them together as partners in for a collaborative, cross-time novel with Marcia, Beyond the Grave, in which Quincannon solves part of a mystery in 1895 and Marcia’s contemporary museum curator sleuth, Elena Oliverez, solves the rest of it. In 1988, I began a series of short stories featuring the duo. About six years ago, Marcia asked if she could try her hand at a short story of her own featuring Sabina. She did such an excellent job of capturing Sabina’s character and voice that we tried a collaborative short story in which she wrote scenes from Sabina’s viewpoint and I wrote those from Quincannon’s; the result turned out so well that we decided to do this series of novels using the same collaborative method.
Do you as individuals, and as a couple, share qualities with your leads?
BP: I hope I’m as good-hearted and well-meaning as Quincannon, though not anywhere near as lecherous and pompous.
MM: I’m certainly not as brave as Sabina, but I very much enjoy vicariously participating in her adventures.
How did the two of you meet?
MM: At a meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America in the late ’70s. Bill was the chapter head at that time, and in introducing my first novel he got the title wrong, calling it Edgar of the Iron Shoes, instead of Edwin. I thought, “This guy is a real jerk.” Shows how first impressions aren’t reliable.
What’s it like writing together?
BP: Enjoyable. Writing is a lonely profession; living with another professional makes it easier, and the fact that we share a similar approach to writing fiction easier still.
MM: I echo what Bill says. Even with our solo novels, we talk over problems and read each other’s pages.
What about the setting appealed to you?
MM: That period in San Francisco history is rich in material for fiction. The 1890s was a decade when life began to change in urban America. Modern conveniences that we now take for granted came into use; women’s roles became less restrictive; and San Francisco, a port city with influences from all over the world, was a lively place in which to reside.