Skeleton in the Closet


By Marcia Muller

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New York Times bestselling author, Marcia Muller, brings you another thrilling mystery with her famous private investigator, Sharon McCone.

Sharon McCone is excited–and relieved–to move her detective agency into the perfect new office space. Unfortunately, real estate woes aren't the only headache that the new building brings into Sharon's life. Possible nineteenth century ghosts and a shady "intra-reality organization" ensure that Sharon's new office will bring as much excitement as any of her clients.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Looking for Yesterday


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We all have skeletons in our closets. Dark memories of even darker deeds that stab at our psyches like bony, accusing fingers. I myself have my fair share of these demons, and I know they must be closeted away where the world cannot learn of them. I also know, despite their frequent sleep-disturbing appearances, that they are not real. Not any more, at least, over the passage of time.

I've come to terms with my nightmare skeletons. What I'd never expected is that one day I would come face-to-face with a real one.

Finding new office space in San Francisco is a complicated proposition, especially for a firm like mine. McCone Investigations currently has five full-time operatives, three part-time operatives who come in on a case-by-case basis, a secretary, a bookkeeper, and an office manager. We require a big conference room for group and client meetings. Sophisticated phone and computer connections. A small kitchen for when we're working overtime—which is usually. And then there's me, the proprietor. I need a lot of personal space to pace, lie on the floor and think, occasionally exercise, and sometimes scream in frustration.

Sounds like it should be a snap, but at the time we went looking we were the wrong size for what was available: neither small nor large enough, and used to paying a decent rent. We could afford the overinflated prices of this economy, but paying them left one with a distinctly unpleasant feeling of being taken. Besides, we liked the ambience of old Pier 24½, from which the city was about to evict us so they could raze it and replace it with some civic disaster.

My office manager, Ted Smalley, had been hunting for weeks, operating against a December 31 deadline. He'd seen some spacious, beautiful suites that made his mouth water, but none were within the budget I'd set. He'd seen some dismal wrecks—one crawling with rats—that made him shudder. But two days after Christmas, he popped into my office, eyes gleaming with excitement. The perfect place, he said, was on a small lane on Telegraph Hill above the Embarcadero, the waterfront boulevard where we were currently located. Four stories with an old fashioned elevator and—incredibly—underground parking. If we hurried, it could be ours.

We hurried.

Bobbi Connors, the Realtor Ted had been working with, drove her big boat of a Cadillac into the underground garage of the building on Sly Lane. She had pale blond hair and wore mascara that looked as if her eyelids were a nesting ground for spiders, stylish flowing clothing, rings on each finger, and multiple bracelets that jangled when she moved her hands in accompaniment to speaking. Which she did constantly.

Ted, who had been putting up with her for two weeks, looked as if he were going to sleep. I, on the other hand, was fascinated.

"Underground parking for eight cars. Four stories. Expansive Bay views. There're fire stairs, of course, in addition to the elevator—which is charming, if a little clunky. One of the first Otises, installed when the building was erected in 1858. And it's been kept in perfect working order."

I said, "The inspector's certificate—"

Ms. Connors tried not to look annoyed at the interruption. "Is located in the elevator's cab; it's current." She pushed the button summoning the car; the doors opened immediately. We stepped on: "clunky" was the right word; it lurched and grumbled all the way up. Finally it jerked to a halt, its doors opened, and Ms. Connors tugged with effort at the old-fashioned grille.

"The building's color—" I began as we exited the car.

"It was painted two years ago."

"Would it be possible to repaint?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Why would you? Wedgewood blue is perfect."

Ted nodded agreement.

Personally I thought that much Wedgewood blue was a garish detraction.

"Eighteen fifty-eight," I said. "Is the building seismically sound?"

"Yes, there's a certificate for that, too. And it survived both the quake of '06 and Loma Prieta." I thought I detected a tiny, exasperated sigh.

"Shar," Ted said, "I've checked all that out."


Finally the elevator jerked to a halt.

"The fourth floor," Connors said. "I've brought you here first because it's so special. It would make a wonderful office for you, Ms. McCone."

It was beautiful: slanting ceiling with skylights, plenty of space, thickly piled beige carpeting, and of course the magnificent view through the A-shaped window.

"Do you have a lot of furniture, Ms. McCone?"

"No. But I do have a lot of books."

"Well, there you go." She gestured at the side walls with the built-in bookcases.


"One on each floor next to the elevator."

"Let's see the rest of it."

Beside me, Ted was twitching with eagerness.

"Who is the building's owner?" We were standing on the first floor, beside a spacious reception desk.

"An Oregon company, Acme Properties. I can give you contact information, if you like."

I looked around, saw Ted's beaming face. "No, that won't be necessary. But can you tell me who the previous tenants were?"


    "Throughout her many McCone novels, Muller has displayed a knack both for keeping the series fresh and for allowing her character to grow. She accomplishes both goals this time by taking McCone out of the spotlight but giving her fans a chance to root for her to recover. After all these years, Muller's series remains a gold standard for female detective stories."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "Top-notch mystery and more from one of the genre's Grand Masters."—Library Journal

On Sale
Oct 2, 2012
Page Count
24 pages

Marcia Muller

About the Author

Marcia Muller has written many novels and short stories. She has won six Anthony Awards, a Shamus Award, and is also the recipient of the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award (their highest accolade). She lives in northern California with her husband, mystery writer Bill Pronzini.

Learn more about this author