Bullets Across the Bay


On Friday, February 24, 2012, as part of the closing reception for the exhibit Bullets Across the Bay: The San Francisco Bay Area in Crime Fiction, five Bay Area mystery authors gathered in the Morrison Library to read and discuss excerpts from the works of other local mystery writers that influenced them. The combination of the writings of the presenting authors and of the works read show the legacy and continuing impact of depictions of the Bay Area in genre fiction.

The closing reception was made possible by the generous contributions of the Northern California chapters of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and with the assistance of the University of California, Berkeley Library Development Office and The Bancroft Library.

Mark CogginsMark Coggins is the author of five novels featuring San Francisco private investigator August Riordan. A graduate of Stanford University, Mark has worked for a number of Silicon Valley computer and venture capital firms. His books have been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards and have been selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press and Amazon.com, among others. Mark is also a noted photographer. His most recent book, The Big Wake-Up, was published in 2009.

Mark read from two novels. His first selection was from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930) and the second reading was from Interface, a 1974 novel by Joe Gores. Gores was, Mark said, a man who had known more about Dashiell Hammett’s life and works than anyone else. Gores put his knowledge to use in his novel, Hammett (1975), which featured a fictional Hammett in the role of the detective, and in Spade and Archer (2009), an authorized “prequel” to The Maltese Falcon. Mark also recounted his friendship with Gores, who passed away on January 10, 2011, fifty years to the day after Hammett died. Coincidentally, both selections start on page 125 of the first editions of the respective novels.

>> The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett

>> Interface (1974) by Joe Gores

Janet DawsonJanet Dawson has written ten novels featuring Oakland private investigator Jeri Howard. Her first, Kindred Crimes (1990), won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for best first private eye novel and was nominated in the best first category for three mystery awards, the Shamus, the Macavity and the Anthony. In the past, Dawson was a newspaper reporter in Colorado, and a U.S. Navy journalist. After leaving the Navy, Dawson worked in the legal field. She is now on the staff at the University of California, working first on the Berkeley campus and currently at the Office of the President in Oakland. After a lengthy sabbatical, Jeri Howard returned to the scene of the crime in Bit Player (2011).

Before reading a group of excerpts from Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller’s 1977 debut novel featuring San Francisco private eye Sharon McCone, Janet talked about how influential Muller was for her when she was starting out in the 1980s writing a female private investigator character. Muller and fellow mystery writers Sue Grafton (Kinsey Milhone) and Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski) are widely credited with creating the first female PIs in American literature.

>> Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977) by Marcia Muller

Diana OrgainDiana Orgain is the author of the Maternal Instincts Mysteries. Diana earned B.A and M.F.A. degrees in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University with a minor in acting. She has acted professionally in many theater roles and national commercials and written several plays. On her way to becoming a mystery writer, she went and had a baby. Her three books about new mom/private investigator Kate Connolly are inspired by the transformational experience that motherhood brings and juxtapose child development with crime-solving. The newest entry in the series, Formula for Murder, was delivered in 2011.

Diana harkened back to her childhood enthusiasm for mysteries when she chose to read from a Nancy Drew novel. She recalled a conversation she had once with fellow mystery writer Penny Warner, author of The Official Nancy Drew Handbook (2007), in which she asked Warner, “What has Nancy Drew really taught us?” Warner replied that if she was ever tied up in an attic with her hands behind her back, and she had a lipstick in her pocket, she could use it to write “SOS” on the window and be rescued! Since Diana imbues her protagonist with a similar joyful resourcefulness, she was thrilled to learn that her favorite girl-detective once had an adventure in San Francisco.

>> Trade Wind Danger (2005) by Carolyn Keene

Sheldon SiegelSheldon Siegel, a Chicago native, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and graduated from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. He has been in private practice in San Francisco for over twenty years specializing in corporate and securities law. He is also the best-selling author of seven critically-acclaimed novels featuring two San Francisco criminal defense attorneys: ex-priest, ex-public defender Mike Daley and his ex-wife Rosie Fernandez. The most recent entry in the series is Perfect Alibi (2010).

Sheldon explained that his experience in corporate and securities law did not fully prepare him to write legal thrillers, so he educated himself about the world of criminal law by reading books by authors such as Scott Turow and John Grisham, who brought the legal mystery to the best-seller lists. He also turned to the works of John Lescroart, a 1970 Cal graduate, who jumped into the fray in 1989 with Dead Irish, the novel that introduced his long-running series character Dismas Hardy. Lescroart’s fourth novel, The 13th Juror (1994), was a source of inspiration to Sheldon as he was writing his first novel, Special Circumstances, which was published in 2000.

>> The 13th Juror (1994) by John Lescroart

Simon WoodSimon Wood is the Anthony Award-winning author of twelve books and over 150 published stories and articles. Born in England, Simon’s background is in engineering. He is a licensed pilot and used to drive single-seat race cars. Now living in the East Bay, he works as a part-time private investigator and writes thrillers, mysteries, and horror fiction (under the name of Simon Janus). Most of Simon’s mysteries revolve around ordinary people getting caught up in extraordinary events. His most recent book is called Did Not Finish (2011) and is set in the high-octane world of motor racing.

Simon read from Bill Pronzini’s The Snatch, which was published in 1971 and introduced Pronzini’s durable and timeless private eye, the “Nameless Detective.” Simon talked about how he, as a Bay Area transplant, looks at the region with the same interest in details and quirks as a detective. Also, as a part-time private investigator himself, Simon appreciates the fictional nameless detective’s lifestyle as portrayed in the novel.

>> The Snatch (1971) by Bill Pronzini


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Anthony Boucher
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Muller & Pronzini
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