The Detective’s Daughter – Sentimental Journey

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Kim in Baltimore counting down the days to Malice Domestic.

“The thing I miss most are the fog horns,” Aunt Betty would tell me each time she spoke of growing up in San Francisco. As a small child, I was so caught up in her stories that I could see each hill, hear the clang of the streetcar and taste the crust of the sourdough bread. Aunt Betty had been a young girl when her family sailed through the Panama Canal on their way to live in the Philippines. Before the start of World War II, her father was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco. Of all the places they lived over the years, it was here that her heart held as home.image
Aunt Betty and Dad were first cousins though they were as close as siblings. Their mothers were sisters and both Auntie and Dad had lost their fathers when they were young. When Dad was eighteen months old my grandmother, who had been recently widowed, took him on a train across the country to be with her sister. The story of my grandmother, grieving and traveling alone with her baby, revealed a vulnerable side she didn’t often acknowledge. I was fascinated by Nana’s story and hoped to one day recreate her journey and travel to San Francisco to see the city she and Aunt Betty loved.
It wasn’t until a year after my dad died that Aunt Betty and I were able to take a train trip to California. My husband and children shared one compartment and Auntie and I shared another. We spent hours talking about her life over cups of coffee in the dining car.image
The train arrived hours later than scheduled and afterwards we had a thirty minute bus ride from Oakland into San Francisco. It was after midnight by the time we were brought to the apartments I had rented. We immediately went to bed.The next morning, with the sun shining, I stepped out into the courtyard feeling much like the women who rent the villa in Enchanted April. Everywhere I looked was beautiful and exactly as Auntie had described.
My mom had flown out to meet us and was sharing a place with Aunt Betty across the courtyard from us. Each morning we would stroll up Chestnut Street, passing Auntie’s old apartment building, to get our morning coffee at The Squat and Gobble. We spent some time visiting attractions such as the Coit Tower and Alcatraz, but mostly we stayed in Cows Hollow retracing the steps of Auntie’s youth. On Easter Sunday we went to mass at St. Vincente de Paul, the church Aunt Betty had received her sacraments. After mass imageAuntie cornered the priest to tell him how much the church had changed since 1940, yet told me how everything looked the same as she had left it.
At night, before I went to sleep, I would listen for the fog horns and smile knowing that Auntie would be listening as well. In a blink of an eye two weeks passed and we were boarding another train to make our way home. There wasn’t one conversation I had with Aunt Betty over the next few years that didn’t include reminiscing about our trip. Some days she would call me and say, “Hon, you ready? Let’s go to our city and never come back.”
It’s been three years since she’s left this world and now I am the keeper of her stories that became our stories. Before I close my eyes at night, I remember the sound of the fog horn and know that is what I most long to hear again.

Have you ever heard a story that has inspired you to take a trip?

Guest: Nancy Herriman

Edith here, soaking up late-summer heat.

I’m excited to welcome fellow historical mystery author Nancy Herriman to the blog today Press photo compwith her new “A Mystery of Old San Francisco” series. This series sounds especially appealing to me as I am a native Californian, and it’s set only twenty years before my own historical series. Nancy’s first book in the series is No Comfort for the Lost. What a great title! I confess I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s next up on my Kindle. And she’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter!

Take it away, Nancy.

Setting a Mystery in 1860s San Francisco

First off, thanks for hosting me! I thought I’d talk about why I chose 1860s San Francisco as a setting for my new mystery series. I’ve always found the city fascinating, and I think most people are familiar with its lore—stories about the 49ers and the Gold Rush, the Chinese laborers working on the Pacific Railroad, the famous people who lived there at that time, such as Mark Twain, Levi Strauss, J.A. Folger of coffee fame, Leland Stanford, Ghirardelli. There was so much going on, so much to see. Even then, it was an insanely popular tourist destination—I wonder if it was as hard to find a parking spot near the shoreline as it is now—and a huge draw for folks looking for a fresh start in life.

AAB-6905In the 1860s, San Francisco was one of the most diverse cities in the country, if not the most diverse. I decided to make use of that diversity and feature various immigrants in my book—my English heroine, the Irish scamp she’s taken under her wing, the boisterous Italian family living next door, her bossy Scottish housekeeper, all the Chinese she interacts with, including her half-Chinese cousin. A rich melting pot of people with an equally rich supply of problems.

And of course, the city is also infamous for being rough-and-tumble, its Barbary Coast (not AAC-8916actually on the coast, but named after the notorious Berber coastal region of North Africa) well-known for vice. Saloons, opium dens, and illegal gambling parlors existed to serve the male—and sometimes female—inhabitants. There were over 1000 drinking establishments in the city, nearly 1 for every 12 residents. You wouldn’t have any trouble finding a seat in a bar, I suppose!

NCL final coverAnd where there are vices, there are crimes. My heroine in No Comfort for the Lost, Celia Davies, is a strong-willed British nurse who runs a clinic for poor women. She becomes involved in crime-solving when one of her Chinese patients is found dead in the bay. Being who she is, Celia most certainly wants to help find the girl’s killer. Even if the handsome detective assigned to the case has other ideas about her involvement.

Edith: Ooh, this sounds fabulous, Nancy. I might have to take the afternoon off to do some reading! Thanks so much for sharing the flavor of your story with us!

Readers: What are your favorite settings for historical mysteries? Is there a setting and era you wish someone would set a mystery in? What about your own memories of visiting San Francisco? Ask Nancy a question today – she’ll be stopping in to respond. And giving away a book to one lucky commenter!

Nancy Herriman retired from an engineering career to take up the pen. She hasn’t looked back. Her work has won the RWA Daphne du Maurier award, and No Comfort for the Lost (NAL) was chosen as the Library Journal August 2015 Pick of the Month. When not writing, she enjoys singing, gabbing about writing, and eating dark chocolate. She currently lives in Central Ohio with her family. Learn more at: www.nancyherriman.com

Unbearable Lightness of San Francisco

john-nardizzi-book-cover-640x1024Today we welcome author and private investigator John Nardizzi to Wicked Cozy Authors. We met John at Crime Bake last fall.  Telegraph Hill is John’s first crime novel.

Crime novels are sold in neatly sliced sub genres: Hard-boiled, Cozy, Historical, Nordic noir.  These artificial boundaries are a construct of the book business to help sell books.  But many writers blur those lines–or at least mash up a few of them.  Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is considered a classic of crime fiction.  Highsmith set the book in the Italian fishing town of Mongibello, in the city of Venice, and other locales.  The detectives looking for Ripley are professional policemen, but the story (told in the third person) is from an amateur perspective–Ripley himself.  Ripley might be said to be a detective in reverse: an amateur sleuth obscuring his crimes with the frenetic energy of a first-timer.  There is little gore, no sex, yet Ripley’s convoluted sexual identity colors the book with repressed tension.  Highsmith’s book rumbles across the artificial boundaries of the crime genre.

I worked in San Francisco as a private investigator in the 1990s.  After I returned several times on cases in 2002, it was clear that the San Francisco I had known was rapidly changing.  I had written poems and short pieces about the city but felt a powerful need to explore it again in a crime novel.  The book features my San Francisco, not the one others might remember—a city colored with my images, biases, and memories from cases that I had worked on as law student and PI.

telegrphHill500Among the famous hills of San Francisco is Telegraph Hill, a gorgeous section of San Francisco where small cottages dot the hillside alongside Spanish-style homes.  A flock of wild parrots twitter in trees overhead as the neighborhood denizens make their way downhill for a coffee in the North Beach caffes.  I walked countless times from Telegraph Hill to Nob Hill, where cable cars stopped at the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel as fog rolled down California Street to ice the night.

Scan10003But the underworld of San Francisco was never far away.  Standing on the tip of Nob Hill at California Street, you could look down Jones Street to a different section called the Tenderloin–one of greatest mixes of wealth and poverty in the U.S., separated by just a few blocks.  The Tenderloin took its name from a section of old New York City.  In the late 19th century, a New York cop was promoted to midtown, where gambling & prostitution were rampant  He told a reporter that he had been “eating rump steak down in the Fourth precinct, but now I have a chance to eat some of the tenderloin.” People took this as a reference to taking bribes to look the other way, and the name came to be used as a pejorative for the city’s red light district.  To this day, San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has struggled to match the rest of the city’s growth.  In the 1990s, Turk Street glittered in the sunlight from dozens of shattered bottles.  Drug dealing went on openly in Boedekker Park and prostitutes worked the streets at all times of the day and night.  It was a far cry from the top of Nob Hill, which was just a few blocks away.

Scan10004All these San Francisco neighborhoods were populated with fantastic characters.  As I walked, I picked up the vibrant dialogue on the streets.  There was a homeless man named Billy, who rose out of his cardboard boxes each Friday night to read poetry at the Yakety Yak Cafe.  A pool hall down the street, Hollywood Billiards, where you could shoot some stick with unemployed hit men.  Within minutes of walking past bars like The Driftwood or the Coral Sea, I would stride by wealthy homes on California Street, then into the North Beach neighborhood near the base of Telegraph Hill, where the guys at Florence Ravioli Factory fired carom shots off the customers in an all-day comedy fest.

telegraph_hill_picAll of this was crammed in tight confines.  Japanese tourists who stayed downtown at Hotel Nikko would sometimes ignore the doorman’s warning and turn left out the door into the prostitutes, drug dealers and rough trade.  They looked dazed—how could a cozy $500 per night room be so close to . . . this?  I suggested to them some contrasting sections of San Francisco—Nob Hill and Telegraph Hill were just a short walk of street poetry away.

So the city of San Francisco was unique– or was it?  Cozy on Telegraph Hill, noir down in the Tenderloin.  You can find inspiration just a few blocks away in any place if you look hard enough.  Great settings always offer a contrast between heaviness and lightness, and the authors we come of love present us with a bit of each.  In my novel, the detective reflects on the mixed blessings of the city, the poverty that exists in plain sight of opulent wealth.  While troubled by the contrast, he knows that he is in love: “Even when you see her grimy face and wasted ways, you love her like a woman—the endless promise of California.”

What is your own private California?

johnnauthJohn Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. Telegraph Hill is the first crime novel featuring Infantino.

In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction.