The year 1895 finds the partners of Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services (The Bughouse Affair, 2013) working another pair of cases that turn out to be closely connected.
Gold and real estate mogul Joseph St. Ives and his wife, Margaret, are pretty straight-laced as members of San Francisco’s nouveaux riches go. But their son David is already quite the rake, and their daughter Virginia insists on keeping company with Lucas Whiffing, who’s nothing more than a clerk at a sporting-goods store. Alarmed at his daughter’s intransigence, St. Ives hires Sabina Carpenter to keep an eye on her. That’s why Sabina’s on hand at mayor Adolph Sutro’s party, where Virginia tells her she hates her, runs out of the building and throws herself over a cliff. Or does she? Although she leaves a suicide note behind, her body is nowhere to be found. As St. Ives threatens Sabina with a lawsuit and worse, her partner, John Quincannon, is doing his best to follow the trail from a tipster to the bandit who relieved the Wells, Fargo Express of $35,000. The stakes are high for Quincannon, who stands to earn a 10 percent commission, but the risks are equally high, since the information he gets from Bob Cantwell leads to nothing but coshings and corpses and dark whispers about “the Kid.” Meanwhile, a sharp-eyed lunatic calling himself Sherlock Holmes continues to bedevil the sleuthing couple.
The big mystery is transparent in its outline, and the details aren’t interesting enough to keep one reading. Veterans Muller and Pronzini have done better work, both alone and in collaboration.