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Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services
By Bill Pronzini

Crippen & Landru, $16.00, 202 pp., October 1998

Reviewed by Tom Kreitzberg

It's hard to say what makes the stories in this collection so much fun to read. Maybe it's the larger-than-life character of John Quincannon, the retired Secret Service agent who operates a detective agency in 1890s San Francisco with Sabina Carpenter, a former Pinkerton agent. Maybe it's the way Quincannon's ego, greed, and unrequited love of his partner always see him through, despite the fistfights, gunfights, and angry clients that seem to come with each case. Maybe it's the Old West setting, surprisingly refreshing when given a mystery slant.

Maybe it's because the stories were so much fun to write.
In his introduction, Pronzini describes the history of his detective duo, whom he initially had no intention of revisiting after their first appearance in the 1985 novel QUINCANNON. A joint project with his wife Marcia Muller (best known for the Sharon McCone series) led to the characters' reappearance in 1986's BEYOND THE GRAVE, in which Muller's contemporary character Elena Oliverez uses Quincannon's ninety-year-old notes to solve the half of a mystery that eluded him. Since then, publisher disinterest has limited them to appearances in short stories, all nine of which (through February, 1998) are collected here.
A few of the stories lean more toward adventures than mysteries, but the bulk of them feature variations on impossible crime plots. It's a tribute to Pronzini's storytelling skills that the settings and characters keep the tales fresh and entertaining even when -- as happens once or twice -- the solution to the mystery is obvious to the Carr-fed reader. Anyone interested in what rainmaking, gambling, counterfeiting, spiritualism, or Chinese tong warfare was like a hundred years ago in the American West will learn a little something along the way, as well.

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