Bullets Across the Bay


“Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre.”

—MWA Mission Statement excerpt (www.mysterywriters.org)

When mystery authors decided to form the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) to promote the genre and to help ensure sufficient pay for authors, Anthony Boucher, already active in progressive politics, was quick to become involved. Not only was he one of the association’s founding members in 1945, but he became its president in 1951. In addition, he was awarded three Edgar awards by the organization for mystery criticism in 1946, 1950, and 1953.

It should be noted that in addition to all of his mystery-related activities, Boucher somehow found the time to write science fiction works, co-found and edit The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and host, from 1949-1968, a weekly radio program focusing on vocal performances.

In 1970, the first “Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention,” now known simply as Bouchercon, was held in Santa Monica, California. Today, Bouchercon, held annually in various cities around the country, is widely recognized as the premiere conference of mystery authors, fans, and aficionados.


“Two dozen lively promoters of death met conspiratorially, at the gunpoint of Anthony Boucher..., to form a Western ‘cell’ of Mystery Writers of America, Inc., with the flourishing slogan, ‘Crime does not pay—enough.’ Over dinner and drinks (with or without cyanide) at a San Francisco restaurant, with the butt end of a .44 for gavel, officers were elected and arrangements made for monthly meetings, alternately in San Francisco and the Eastbay.”

Oakland Tribune, March 2, 1947

In February 1947, “two dozen lively promoters of death met conspiratorially at the gunpoint of Anthony Boucher...to form a Western Cell of Mystery Writers of America, Inc. with the flourishing slogan, “Murder does not pay—enough,” or, as the author a newspaper article colorfully put it, these authors were demanding “more kudos” and “more kale.” If newspaper articles and photos are any indication, these writers were a highly-spirited and congenial group, a dozen of whom in 1951 produced The Marble Forest, a joint work under the name “Theo Durrant.” Also important to note is the large number of women writers who were not only members, but also the women such as Lenore Glen Offord, Virginia Rath, and Mary Collins who went on to direct the chapter in its early years. A large percentage of the works of these authors were set in the Bay Area.

Theo Durrant, pseud.
The Marble Forest
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951.
Bancroft PS3507.U77.M3 1951

A collaborative effort on the part of twelve members of the Northern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and published under the byline of “Theo Durrant.” The real Theo Durrant was an early serial killer, convicted of murdering two young women in the belfry of Emanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco. He was hanged in San Quentin prison on January 7, 1898.

“Durrant Hangs”
[Utica, N.Y.: Utica Saturday Globe, 1897]
Bancroft HV6534.S3.D87 1897

Printed broadside advertising the publication of the complete story of Theo Durrant’s crimes and hanging in the following week’s edition of the Utica Saturday Globe newspaper. He was eventually executed in January 1898.

Virginia Rath (1905-1950)
The Dark Cavalier
Garden City, N.Y.: Published for the Crime Club, Inc., by Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., 1938.
Bancroft PS3535.A82.D3 1938

This is the first of eight novels featuring San Francisco couturier and amateur sleuth Michael Dundas. Here, Dundas helps solve two murders involving tenants in his apartment building. Another tenant becomes his wife in later books.

Lenore Glen Offord (1905-1991)
Murder on Russian Hill
Philadelphia: Macrae-Smith-Company, 1938.
Main PS3529.F56.M8 1938 | Bancroft PS3529.F56.M8 1938

Coco Hastings—young, recently married, and a member of the San Francisco smart set—becomes an amateur sleuth when her boss is murdered. Set in the Bay Area at the time of the construction of the Bay Bridge, the novel offers a glimpse of the region as it prepares to transition from the ferryboat era to the bridge era. Coco lives in Berkeley and commutes by streetcar and ferryboat to San Francisco. While she anticipates being able to drive or take a train directly to the city, she also laments the beloved boats that will soon be forgotten.

“Murder on Russian Hill”
Lenore Glen Offord Papers
Bancroft BANC MSS 71/104 c

Manuscript title page of a draft of Murder on Russian Hill.

Mary Collins (b. 1908)
The Sister of Cain
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943.
Main 961.C7133.sis | Bancroft PS3505.O3415.S5 1943

Newly-married Hilda Moreau arrives in San Francisco after her husband has been sent overseas during World War II and becomes the prime suspect in a murder mystery. Most of the action takes place at the Moreau House, in real life “Monroe’s Medieval Mansion,” at Hyde and Greenwich, on Russian Hill, which was built by a naval architect in the Gothic Revival style and was torn down shortly after this story was written.

Nancy Barr Mavity (b. 1890)
The Man Who Didn’t Mind Hanging
Garden City, N.Y.: Published for the Crime Club, by Doubleday, Doran, 1932.
Main 961.M461.m | Bancroft PS3525.A9.M3 1932

When San Francisco millionaire philanthropist Gabriel Jeffries is found murdered, the police announce that they have solved the crime in just three hours. What appears to be an open-and-shut case against Jeffries’ Chinese servant Sing Wong (who holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley) attracts the attention of three men: Fon Ng Chee, leader of San Francisco’s Chinese colony; Sam Hardwicke, brilliant, young, publicity-seeking defense attorney; and Peter Piper, crime reporter for the Herald.

Robert Finnegan (1906-1947)
The Bandaged Nude
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.
Bancroft PS3535.Y354.B3 1946

Set immediately after the end of World War II, “in this fast-moving mystery a newshound tracks a cunning, artistic killer through the garrets and dives of San Francisco’s wild Bohemian crowd.” The protagonist frequents several fictional bars, such as the Iron Cat and the Black Pot in North Beach, which were no doubt inspired by the real Black Cat and Iron Pot bars (both on Montgomery Street, near Washington Street).

Jack Lord and Lloyd Huff
Where to Sin in San Francisco
San Francisco, Calif.: R.F. Guggenheim, 1948.
Bancroft F869.S3.L671 1949

Kelli Stanley
City of Dragons
New York: Minotaur Books, 2010.
Morrison PS3619.T3657.C58 2010 | Bancroft PS3619.T3657.C58 2010

Kelli Stanley is currently writing two critically-acclaimed historical mystery series. Her first novel, Nox Dormienda, set in ancient Rome, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award in 2008. Her second, City of Dragons, is the first entry in the Miranda Corbie series, about a young San Francisco woman working as a security expert at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, was named a 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists. Kelli Stanley is the current president of the Northern California Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.

Janet Dawson
A Credible Threat
New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996.
Main PS3554.A949.C74 1996

Janet Dawson’s first novel, Kindred Crimes (1990), featuring Oakland private investigator Jeri Howard, won the Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel Contest and was nominated for Anthony and Shamus awards. In A Credible Threat, the sixth in the series, Jeri solves a mystery involving a group of University of California students who share an old house in the Elmwood district. From 2000 to 2010, Dawson was a staff member at UC Berkeley; she now works on the staff of the University of California Office of the President.

Laurie R. King
A Grave Talent
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Main PS3561.I813.G7 1993 | Bancroft PS3561.I813.G7 1993

Best-selling author Laurie R. King, who also writes the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, took home the Edgar for Best First Novel in 1994 for this police procedural introducing lesbian SFPD homicide detective Kate Martinelli.

Simon Wood (1968- )
New York: Leisure Books, 2010.
Private collection

Immediate Past MWA NorCal Chapter President Simon Wood is a California transplant from England, now living in the East Bay, who writes thrillers that frequently have their origins in workplace conflict. In Terminated, the manager of an Alameda pharmaceutical company is terrorized after giving an unstable employee a poor performance review.

Eddie Muller
The Distance
New York: Scribner, 2002.
Main PS3613.U45.D57 2002 | Bancroft PS3613.U45.D57 2002

A man of many nicknames and epithets (“contemporary Renaissance man,” “the Czar of Noir,” “cultural archeologist,” etc.), writer and film noir historian Eddie Muller organizes the annual “Noir City” film festival in San Francisco. He is also the author of several critically-acclaimed film studies and a pair of hard-boiled novels set in 1940s San Francisco featuring sportswriter Billy “Mr. Boxing” Nichols.

John Lescroart
Treasure Hunt
New York: Dutton, 2010.
Morrison PS3562.E78.T74 2010 | Bancroft PS3562.E78.T74 2010

Cal grad (1970, B.A., English with Honors) John Lescroart is the author of a long-running series of legal thrillers set in San Francisco featuring ex-cop and lawyer Dismas Hardy and police detective Abe Glitsky. A new series chronicling the cases of private investigators Wyatt Hunt and Mickey Dade debuted in 2006.

Seth Harwood
Jack Wakes Up
Barrington, N.H.: Breakneck Books, 2008.
Bancroft PS3608.A7894.J33 2008

There are many established paths to getting published. Helping to blaze a new trail, Seth Harwood built an audience by recording his novels and issuing them in a series of free podcasts. His first novel, Jack Wakes Up, about a washed-up actor named Jack Palms who finds himself caught between the cops and a nasty gang of drug dealers on the streets of San Francisco, was then published by an independent publisher and later re-issued by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Random House.


Early Mysteries
Dashiell Hammett
Anthony Boucher
Mystery Writers of America
Muller & Pronzini
Counter Culture and Diversity
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