Marcia Muller. Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes (1992) 297 pp.
Sharon McCone takes on a cold case when her All Souls Legal Cooperative colleague Jack Stuart asks her to investigate a murder that took place thirty-six years ago. The woman convicted of the crime, Lisbeth Benedict, has just been paroled to San Francisco. Her daughter Judy—who is also Jack’s girlfriend—wants her mother’s case re-tried before the city’s Historical Tribunal, a quasi-legal body dedicated to righting old wrongs. Although reluctant at first, Sharon agrees to investigate. In 1956, on a foggy night in the exclusive Seacliff area of San Francisco, the mutilated body of Cordelia “Cordy” McKittredge was found on the grounds of an international think tank. Cordy, who was a thoroughly liberated—and promiscuous—young woman, had been having an affair with one of the institute’s married fellows, Vincent Benedict. His wife had the motive and opportunity to commit the murder and was subsequently convicted of the crime. Sharon soon discovers that there are gaps in the official records and develops a list of suspects who have no desire to resurrect the old case. The past collides with the present when one of Cordy’s old friends, a former airline stewardess who has fallen on hard times, is murdered and Sharon’s quest for the truth leads her into the dark heart of the 1950’s, to an era of anti-Communist paranoia that drove ordinary citizens to desperate measures.
Setting: San Francisco (Seacliff; Bernal Heights)