Burgade's Crossing by Bill Pronzini (2003)
I've been reading a lot of Bill Pronzini's stories lately and, while doing so, have developed a greater appreciation for his characters Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon. The time is the 1890s; the scene, San Francisco and just about anywhere else. John Quincannon is a former secret service agent, the son of the owner of a detective agency that rivaled the Pinkerton's. Sabina Carpenter is a former Pinkerton herself, the young widow of another Pinkerton agent. In 1893 the two pooled their talents to form the private detective agency of Carpenter and Quincannon.
The ongoing theme in the stories is Quincannon's desire for his partner and her determination to have their relationship remain strictly professional. Quincannon is a man with a large ego and an appetite for women, drink, and danger. For the sake of Sabina, he has forgone the first two. What began as simple lust for his partner has become love but, in his bull-headed way, he never expresses it so. For her part, Sabina on occasion will display affection for Quincannon while remaining insistent that her private life remain hers. Her influence over her partner is strong: once in a while she is even able to convince the tight-fisted Scot to waive the agency fee. The fact that Quincannon would agree (under vocal protests, mind you) is evidence of how far he has fallen for his partner.
Quincannon and Sabina are good detectives, able to solve the most impossible of crimes. Sabina, Quincannon sometimes admits, is as good -- and sometimes a better -- detective as he is. Burgade's Crossing collects eight stories in the series, four from the short-lived Louis L'Amour Western Magazine, one from EQMM, one from the anthology Crime at Christmas, one apparently original, and one reprinted from Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services, an earlier collection. The stories cover a lot of ground, from a river ferry to a gambling parlor, and from counterfeiting to a Chinatown tong war. Good, fast, enjoyable reading that reminds me of Edward D. Hoch in its variety, strong plotting, rich detail, fair play detection, and solid characters.
Pronzini and his wife Marcia Muller have just published a new Carpenter and Quincannon novel, The Spook Lights Affair. I'm looking forward to it.