Historical novels not only show us our past but also show how that past is never completely finished. We tend to make the same mistakes and have the same concerns as our parents, grandparents and great-great-great relatives did. All that really changes are the technology and fashion.
So that leads me to historicals based in San Francisco. In honor of Bouchercon 2010 set in San Francisco, I am doing an ongoing look at mysteries set there. I am sure I am missing a few so please, tell us your favorite historicals set in San Francisco...or anywhere.
Kelli Stanley -- City of Dragons: For me, this is one of the most exciting novels to come out this year. Set in in San Francisco during 1940, City of Dragons introduces P.I. Miranda Corbiean, independent, unconventional heroine who isn't always likable. Here's a quote from my review: "The gritty, hard-boiled City of Dragons works as an
insightful look at racisim and sexism. Stanley never misses a beat as she also shows San Francisco’s hidden corners, seething emotions in the days before WWII."
Ace Atkins: Devil's Garden -- Atkins used the real-life event of comic Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s trial for rape and manslaughter in 1921 for an insightful look at the fascination with celebrities, the power of the press, dirty politics, voyeurism and the thrill that the early movies brought to audiences. His meticulous research gives a very human view of Fatty Arbuckle, whose reign as America's favorite comic crashed when Virginia Rappe, a starlet with a dubious past, died during a Labor Day party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Fatty was accused of crushing her to death during sex. Although he was acquitted after three trials, the comic’s career was over. While the comic’s arrest and trial provide the backdrop of Devil’s Garden, Atkins uses another fact about the case to elevate the novel. Before he was known for his crime fiction classics, Samuel Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton detective hired by the defense to sleuth out the facts.
Shirley Tallman: The Cliff House Strangler -- Each of Tallman's novels is set in a different area of San Francisco, showing, as do the other historicals, just how much the city has and hasn't changed. The Cliff House, which is still there, is now a restaurant that I have always wanted to visit so I am partial to this 2007 novel in her series about the engaging Sarah Woolson, an attorney in 19th-century San Francisco. Set during the 1880s, Tallman's series also delves into issues of the era, which sound suspiciously like the concerns of 2010. The fascination with spiritualism and psychics is prominent in The Cliff House Strangler; her latest novel Scandal on Rincon Hill looks at Chinese immigrants.
Dianne Day: Emperor Norton's Ghost -- This 1999 novel continued Day's series about Freemont Jones, a Bostonian who ended up in San Francisco in the early 1900s, opens a typewriting business (we'd call it secretarial today) and finds a gift for solving crimes. Day's novels were filled with oddities of the day and bigger-than-life characters based on real people. Emperor Norton was a 19th-century San Franciscan who crowned himself Emperor Norton I of the United States and Defender of Mexico.