Driving south on Highway 101 in Northern California, you cross through a short tunnel just north of San Francisco and are greeted by the dramatic rise of the Golden Gate Bridge towers with The City in the background. After nearly 40 years, this view still takes my breath away and I’m filled with awe and gratitude that I have been blessed to live here. So I love any book, movie, or TV show set in my “City by the Bay” — and fortunately, there are many of them from which to choose, from the most famous to the more obscure. I’ll focus on a few in the latter category here.
In Blog #18 More Biblio-Books, I talked about Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, probably the most well-known book that I’ll write about today. It was a mystery that was both old school and new age and included references to many San Francisco locations and the Bay Area startup world. With quirky characters and an imaginative story, I found this book to be very engaging and a lot of fun!
With Child by Laurie King is another mystery set in San Francisco. It was my first Laurie King novel, and I didn’t realize when I picked it up that it was the third in a series. (I subsequently went back and read the first two!) Kate Martinelli is a San Francisco detective and recently out. Her partner, Lee, was seriously injured in a previous case of Kate’s and they have separated, leaving Kate adrift. Kate becomes involved with the daughter (Jules) of her fellow detective’s girlfriend when Jules begins getting mysterious calls and then goes missing while in Kate’s company. A tense “unputdownable” thriller.
Another “first read” for me (again out of order) was Kelli Stanley’s City of Sharks, a Miranda Corbie mystery. 1940’s San Francisco. Noir. The Treasure Island World’s Fair on one side of The City and Playland on the other. And featuring John Steinbeck and C.S. Forester – and longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen thrown in for good measure. I couldn’t not have enjoyed this book. Miranda Corbie is a great character – I’ll be going back to earlier books to read more Miranda!
Traveling a decade further back in time was Christie Nelson’s Beautiful Illusion. Set in San Francisco in the late 1930’s, Nelson’s book is my favorite kind of historical fiction. She weaves well-researched facts into an intriguing “noir-esque” tale with engaging, well-drawn characters. I felt transported back in time to The City, trying to build a monument to peace on Treasure Island amidst worldwide tensions. It fueled my already heightened fascination for glimpses of an earlier time in the city that I fell in love with over 40 years ago. For anyone who has lost their heart to San Francisco, this book is sure to satisfy. I won’t reveal it here, but the final line of the book says it all!
A fun cozy mystery, Bonnie Monte’s The Sleeping Lady made me think back to my favorite childhood sleuth, Trixie Belden. She was bold, impulsive and daring. All the things that I wasn’t! Monte’s protagonist, Rae Sullivan, embodied all those same traits. Convinced that the police are ignoring important clues in the murder of her best friend in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, she doesn’t hesitate to embark on her own investigation, blind to the peril her determination engenders. The requisite twists and red herrings ensue as her adventures unfold. It was an exciting ride and Monte had me guessing right up to the end! I loved Monte’s depiction of familiar neighborhoods in Marin and San Francisco and of our beloved Mount Tamalpais or “The Sleeping Lady” as we locals like to call it.
Finally, in Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s Fire and Water, pediatric surgeon Kate Murphy, who was raised by her widowed father in his Irish bar in San Francisco, gets involved with a brilliant and troubled artist, Jake. I loved the authenticity in the heartbreaking struggle Kate faces with her deep love and passion for Jake and the need to protect herself and their daughter. When long-held secrets about her own family and childhood come to light, they bring not only more grief but also understanding and forgiveness. This is a compassionate and engaging story that will stay with you long after the last page.
What about you? Have you ever “visited” San Francisco in a book or movie? Do you have a favorite?