Murder on the Barbary Coast (1999)
California Street (1990)
Golden Gate Caper (1976)
Murder on Nob Hill (2004)

SAN FRANCISCO, on the marge of the sea, with towering hills behind her, lay basking in the sun like a serpent by the side of a rock.” With these lines begins an obscure, anonymous novel called Mysteries and Miseries of San Francisco.¹ Published in 1853, it is one of the earliest-if not the first-crime novels set in the San Francisco Bay Area. The nine-county Bay Area² has long been a popular setting for literary nefariousness. Cops, killers, detectives, and dames walk the mean streets of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Sausalito, Walnut Creek, and Napa (along with many other real and imagined Bay Area communities) in these novels.

The Early Years

The San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, the activities of the Sydney ducks and famed bandit Joaquin Murietta, exotic and mysterious Chinatown, the wide open lawlessness of the Gold Rush, and the havoc wreaked by the 1906 earthquake and fire provided frequent backgrounds for early Bay Area crime fiction-and, indeed, they continue to do so. Several dime novels of the late 19th century, with their tales of intrepid heroes, dastardly villains, and beautiful damsels in distress, combined crime and a “Frisco” setting.

Watching the Detectives

San Francisco is home to a wide variety of literary detectives. Perhaps the most famous of all Bay Area crime stories is Dashiell Hammett’s prototypical detective novel The Maltese Falcon (1930), featuring San Francisco gumshoe Sam Spade. With this book, and in numerous stories featuring his other fictional PI, the Continental Op, Hammett established the standards for both literary detectives in general and Bay Area mysteries, specifically. Later fictional detectives, such as William Babula’s Jeremiah St. John, Stephen Greenleaf’s John Marshall Tanner, Bill Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective,” and Mark Coggins’ August Riordan owe a great debt to Hammett and his famous creations. But San Francisco is also famous for its diversity. So, it is no surprise that there is also a large contingent of women detectives (Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, Robin Burcell’s Kate Gillespie (SFPD’s first female homicide detective), Linda Grant’s Catherine Sayler, Laurie King’s Kate Martinelli), gay detectives (Mary Wings’ Emma Victor, Elizabeth Pincus’ Nell Fury, Pat Welch’s Helen Black, Lou Rand’s Francis Morley), and a host of amateurs (Carol Ann O’Marie’s Sister Mary Helen (nun), David Dodge’s Whit Whitney (tax accountant), Claire M. Johnson’s Mary Ryan (pastry chef), Kyra Davis’s Sophie Katz (mystery writer)) and, of course, lawyers (Sheldon Siegel’s Mike Daley (who is also an ex-priest), John Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy, Lia Matera’s Laura Di Palma and Willa Jansson).

And that’s just the “City.” The other eight Bay Area counties are also crawling with fictional detectives and criminals. Communities such as Berkeley (Susan Dunlap, Lenore Glen Offord, David Skibbins, Shelley Singer), Oakland (Whitman Chambers, Nichelle D. Tramble, Richard A. Lupoff, Renay Jackson), Silicon Valley (James Calder, Mark Coggins, Susan Wolfe), Napa Valley (Nadia Gordon, Michele Scott), Contra Costa County (Jonnie Jacobs, David Corbett), and Marin County (Gillian Roberts, Jaqueline Girdner, Annie Griffin) are also well represented here.

In addition to the numerous fictional detectives based in the Bay Area, occasionally other regional detectives find themselves sleuthing in the cities by the Bay. Southern California detectives such as Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason, and Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, and Robert B. Parker’s Boston eye Spenser make occasional appearances in the Bay Area. Also included here is the occasional mainstream novel in which crime figures prominently, such as Frank Norris’ classic of American naturalism, McTeague (1899).

No bibliography of this size is ever complete-or completely correct. Every effort has been made to be comprehensive and accurate. This bibliography has been compiled using reliable sources, however, even the most authoritative sources can contain inaccuracies-even the Library of Congress.

Introduction | Methodology | Contributors | References | Extras

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