Muller, McCone, and Modifications: Generic Shifts in Formula Fiction
Since 1977, Marcia Muller has offered up her PI protagonist, Sharon McCone, in over twenty novels. While she rode the wave of popularity for female detectives, Muller also managed to surf while others drowned in the 1990s. As the female PI lost her mass appeal, Muller produced a generic hybrid: part PI novel, part thriller. It is this generic shift on which my chapter will dwell, tracing the differences in McCone and the style in which she is written after 1993. In Wolf in the Shadows, the construction of the McCone novels begins to change. Sharon is disturbed by the new management in the All Souls Collective, and by Till the Butchers Cut him Down, in 1994, she has opened her own firm. In 1996, when A Wild and Lonely Place appears, the genre structure of the McCone novels has, in fact, altered from detective novel to thriller. To some degree, this alteration can be attributed to Sharon’s new boyfriend, Hy Ripinsky, and this in itself marks a crucial shift in the McCone character, since previous partners have little if any impact on Sharon’s job. More importantly to this paper, however, is the time in which the novel is set, a time that is more conducive to thrillers than to the female PI novel. It is to this context that my essay will turn, as it explores the conditions under which these novels are published, the shift in audience that occurs in the mid-1990s, as well as the political climate surrounding the feminist investigator. Through this focus, my paper will concentrate on how, why, and in what ways Muller reflects the period in which she writes, as she concomitantly creates a milieu that is conducive to her character.
Keywords: Muller, Detective fiction, Female investigators, P.I.s, hard-boiled, Sharon McCone
Prof. Priscilla L. Walton
Professor, English, Carleton University