The three “founding mothers” of the female P.I. genre—Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky—have taken very different approaches to their long-running series after 30-plus years. (Muller’s Sharon McCone was the first to appear, in 1977, while Grafton and Paretsky both made their series debuts in 1982.) Grafton has famously kept Kinsey Millhone stuck in the 1980s; the sleuth was 32 when the series began, and when it finally wraps up with the letter “Z,” she will just have turned 40. Paretsky and Muller have come closer to aging their heroines in something approaching “real time,” though if that were literally true, McCone would probably be around Muller’s age (early 70s) by now. Instead, she seems to be somewhere in her early to mid-50s.
Also, while Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski is still a “lone wolf” private investigator—she seems to be doing OK financially, thanks to some well-paying corporate gigs, but she’s hardly raking in the big bucks—Sharon McCone is now a full-fledged one-percenter, co-owner with her husband Hy Ripinsky of a massively lucrative agency with a fancy office building in San Francisco’s Financial District. On the first page of Someone Always Knows, the 32nd McCone mystery, we learn that the “spacious entrance” to the building is graced by “a sculpture we’d commissioned—at great cost—from the world-renowned artist Flavio St. John.” (A hideously ugly sculpture, as it turns out, but I’ll bet it’s still better-looking than the Vaillancourt Fountain.) McCone and Ripinsky also live in San Francisco’s pricey Marina District (in a home decorated with “soft, buttery leather chairs and sofas”), and Sharon drives a Mercedes roadster. Not only are they rich, but so are many of their friends and associates, like her former assistant Rae, now a best-selling novelist married to a country music star.
I still enjoy these books, and there’s no doubting that McCone is as dogged and dedicated an investigator as ever, but for some reason the lavish descriptions of her material success always bug me. I recognize that probably says more about me than it does about Muller’s books. (I’m never going to have my own building in downtown SF, with or without an ugly sculpture!) As with many of the books in this series, I saved Someone Always Knows to read on an airplane, because they’re easy-reading page-turners that make for perfect reading in flight. (Plus there’s the fact that McCone is a private pilot—yep, the couple has their own plane, too—and there’s usually at least one flying scene in these books.)
As for the plotlines, there are two: one involving an abandoned house beset by squatters that turns into a murder scene, and the other features one of Hy’s former business partners, long thought to be dead, who reemerges to make trouble. It’s a rather slight entry in the series, but it’s still good to see McCone again. And, let’s face it, if she didn’t have a pile of money, she’d probably have had to leave San Francisco behind by now. She may be a one-percenter, but these days, those are the only people who can afford to live in the City by the Bay; even earthquake shacks, like McCone’s former dwelling, are going for big bucks these days.