Bullets Across the Bay


The University of California, Berkeley has produced its fair share of novelists among the faculty, staff, and alumni. Authors with a Cal connection writing in the mystery genre are no exception. Writers such as Anthony Boucher, Janet Dawson, Claire M. Johnson, and Sheldon Siegel have all called the campus home at one time or another.

The campus itself has proven to be a tantalizing setting for literary mayhem, where the halls of academe can be just as mean as the streets of the city.


According to the February 1996 issue of California Monthly, “the granddaddy of all Berkeley detective stories is The Case of the Seven of Calvary,” written by Anthony Boucher in 1937. The primary setting of the mystery is International House and the sleuth is Professor of Linguistics and Sanskrit expert John Ashwin (a character based on Arthur William Ryder, who taught at Cal from 1910 to 1938, during Boucher’s time as a graduate student), who, with the assistance of Martin Lamb, a research fellow in German, solves the murder of a visiting Swiss diplomat.

“It was a beer that was on Martin’s mind now as they passed through Sather Gate onto Telegraph Avenue. Ashwin paused a moment and looked at the entrance to campus. ‘When I first came to this University,’ he observed, ‘there was a frieze of naked athletes on that gate. Since they were not only naked but somewhat ithyphallic, the pure people of Berkeley demanded removal of the frieze. But what most rejoiced me was this: Underneath this group of males, apparently rearing for action, was the inscription: ERECTED BY JANE K. SATHER.’”

California Monthly
Vol. 106, no. 4, February 1996.
Private collection

Susan Dunlap
Time Expired
New York: Delacorte Press, 1993.
Main PS3554.U46972 T5 1993 | Bancroft PS3554.U46972 T5 1993

In a series of ten novels, Susan Dunlap’s Berkeley police detective Jill Smith has investigated a wide variety of crimes and characters that are quintessentially “Berkeley.” From homelessness to New Age spiritualism to naked protesting, Jill has seen it all. In Time Expired, a war waged against parking meter enforcement leads to murder.

Valerie Miner
Murder in the English Department
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.
Main PS3563.I4647 M8 1983 | Moffitt PS3563.I4647 M8 1983 | Bancroft PS3563.I4647 M8 1983

Wheeler Hall is the scene of murder in this novel by former Cal lecturer Valerie Miner. Professor Nan Weaver fights against sexual harassment and gets caught up in the investigation into the killing of a Milton scholar.

Claire M. Johnson (1956- )
Roux Morgue
cottsdale, Ariz.: Poisoned Pen Press, 2008.
Main PS3610.O324 R68 2008

Claire M. Johnson’s day job is as an editor for the UCB Earthquake Engineering Research Center. In her alter ego of mystery author, she has penned two critically-acclaimed novels featuring San Francisco pastry chef/amateur sleuth Mary Ryan.

Sheldon Siegel
Special Circumstances
New York: Bantam Books, 2000.
Law PS3569.I3823.S62 2000 | Bancroft PS3569.I3823.S64 2000

Sheldon Siegel graduated from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 1983. A practicing attorney in San Francisco for over twenty years, Siegel is also the best-selling author of a series of novels about San Francisco criminal defense lawyers Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez.

Julie Smith (1944- )
Huckleberry Fiend
New York: Mysterious Press, 1987.
Main PS3569.M537553.H81 1987 | Mark Twain Papers PS3569.M537553.H8 1987 | Bancroft PS3569.M537553.H81 1987

Paul McDonald, a former investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, gets involved in a mystery surrounding a manuscript containing the opening chapters of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Can it possibly be the real thing? Or is it an elaborate forgery? The investigation takes Paul first to the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, where he learns that this portion of Huck Finn is, indeed, lost and that it does look an awful lot like the genuine article. Enough that someone is willing to kill to get their hands on it.


When Julie Smith’s sleuth Paul McDonald goes to The Bancroft Library during his investigation into a mysterious supposed Mark Twain manuscript in Huckleberry Fiend (1987), he summarizes his visit:

“I left Linda with reluctance, but that’s the way things are done at the Bancroft Library, the non-circulating collection of which the Mark Twain Papers are a part. You may examine documents or books only in the reading room, and before you go in, you must check your belongings in a locker, bringing in only a pencil or typewriter. Absolutely no pens. I liked that about the place—it made me feel as if the collection were being well taken care of. I also liked the idea that anyone over eighteen could use the library, not only Cal students and graduates. Anyone off the street could walk in and examine a rare, important manuscript. But of course hardly anyone wanted to.”


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