Over the years I’ve read many books (more than two dozen) by the great mystery writer, Marcia Muller, who actually has a website now. Why is that surprising? Well, here’s the explanation in her own words:
For those of you who know of my well-documented aversion to modern technology, it must be a surprise to find me on the Internet. For nearly two decades my fictional private investigator, Sharon McCone, and I resisted computers, but today I’m writing this on a Mac, and she’s probably running a search on hers. We’ve come a long way! Thanks for your patience until I made my slow entry into the twenty-first century.
There are many reasons to recommend Muller’s novels, but the principal one becomes evident only if you read her Sharon McCone series in order. Sometimes a series doesn’t need to be read in any particular order, sometimes it needs to be read chronologically for plot reasons, and sometimes it needs to be read chronologically for character development reasons. The Sharon McCone series falls into the third category. Over the course of 29 novels and 33 years, we learn a great deal about McCone, and she learns just as much about herself. You certainly don’t have to read all 29 unless you’re a completist like me, but I do recommend picking a few over this long span of time and reading them sequentially. It’s not just that the later ones won’t make sense otherwise — though I fear that in fact they won’t make as much sense as they should. It’s more that you’ll be missing out from the rich experience that you would otherwise get.
Muller’s last two in the series — Locked In and Coming Back — are especially interesting because of the step they take away from the detective genre. The titles signal their primary plot element: as a result of a gunshot wound, McCone suffers from locked-in syndrome, a little-known but horrifying disorder, and she gradually comes back from it. How do you run a detective agency if you can’t really communicate? How do you lead an investigation? How do you keep your staff from ignoring you? These ideas overshadow the plot of the mystery story in the case of the two novels — not that there’s anything wrong with the story itself, it’s just that it pales in comparison.