Sharon McCone

Created by Marcia Muller

"Marcia Muller is the founding mother of the contemporary female hard-boiled private eye."

-- Sue Grafton

Generally credited with being the first liberated female private detective of the modern era, Marcia Muller's SHARON McCONE certainly helped pave the way for the later success of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski and Laura Lippmann's Tess Monaghan. But I think it should be pointed that by the time people were starting to notice Sharon, P.D. James' Cordelia Gray and Liza Cody's Anna Lee had already started making their own mark across the big pond.

But who cares? Regardless of any historical nitpicking, the McCone series is worth checking out. She's a refreshingly down-to-earth detective, savvy and as hard-nosed as she has to be, especially in the early books -- a level-headed investigator with a tendency to occasionally get a bit too involved in her cases, that's balanced by a certain tough-mindedness born out of pragmatism, not macho theatrics.

That toughness is rooted, no doubt, in her childhood. Sharon grew up in San Diego, one of several rowdy, trouble-prone "Scottish-Irish brats." To escape the familial turmoil, Sharon, the "white sheep" of the family, lit out for Berkeley, arriving just as the radicalism of the sixties was petering out. She worked her way through college, doing security work in department stores. She discovered she had a knack for the work and gave up her dreams of being a social worker when she landed the gig as staff investigator at All Souls, a San Francisco legal co-op founded back in the late sixties/early seventies by Sharon's boss, and good pal, Hank Zahn, an idealistic lawyer.

McCone's cases tend to touch on social issues, but for the most part -- thanks in part no doubt to that innate levelheadedness --she tends to avoid banging any drum too loudly.

In 1993, Muller received "The Eye," the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievemnet Award, which is given for excellence and contribution to the genre for a body of work. It was about time.

But it was also at about this time that the series began to change, with McCone undergoing several major shake-ups in her life. The feisty loner P.I. acquired an apprentice, Rae Kelleher and -- even more importantly -- a permanent significant other, the dashing and mysterious Hy Ripinsky, an at times too-good-to-be-true character, a pilot with a shadowy past in some unnamed intelligence agency or another who's part James Bond and part Lance White. He'd be right at home in a Harlequin romance, but seemed curiously out of place here.

And Sharon changed as well. She gained a little psychological depth but she also seemed to become something of a wet blanket, losing her clear-eyed pragmatism, which I'd always considered one of her charms. While the old Sharon had always been a bit of a brooder, the new Sharon turned downright mopey at times -- when she wasn't smugly detailing how wonderful her life with Hy Ripinsky was. She also acquired a pilot's license, and, even more recently, she's left All Souls to open her own agency, aided by her nephew Mick Savage and a slew of new characters, each with their own personal backstories. The changes seemed to have sparked Muller on, and the series -- which admittedly was growing a mite predictable -- has veered off in some surprising -- but not always enjoyable -- ways. And it's not just the cloying relationship with Hy Ripinsky that grates.

More and more, as the number of supporting characters, family members and friends -- and their interconnected and melodramatic backstories -- expand and clutter up the narrative, Sharon herself has occasionally become something of a bystander in her own series, and the mystery elements of this once tight, taut series of books have become seriously diluted.

Fortunately, despite the soap operaish elements that have crept into series recently, Sharon remains a compelling and intriguing hero throughout most of the two dozen or so novels and numerous short stories in which she's appeared.

She's even occasionally run into Bill Pronzini's Nameless, a fellow San Francisco P.I., whom she calls "Lone Wolf," most recently in the 2003 Nameless novel Spook. Like Nameless, she's been constantly evolving throughout the series, making each book in the series another chapter in a much larger story. By the way, in case you're wondering why Sharon and Nameless are so chummy, well, maybe the fact that their creators are married has something to do with it.


  • "After all these years, Muller's series remains a gold standard for female detective stories."

-- Kirkus

  • "Does anyone read the McCone series anymore for the mysteries? I gave up a few books ago, because I found the emphasis had switched from crime to domestic issues. And I didn't like most of the new characters, especially her hokey, sucky boyfriend. OOOH! A government agent/pilot with a shadowy and possibly tragic past. Did she pick him up at a used character sale at Harlequin or something? I kept hoping for a plane crash."

-- Nathalie Bumpeau



  • "Merrill-Go-Round" (1981, Arbor House of Mystery and Suspense; also The Black Lizard Anthology #2)
  • "Wild Mustard" (1984, The Eyes Have It)
  • "The Broken Men" (1985, Academy Mystery Novellas, Vol. 1)
  • "Deceptions" (1987, A Matter of Crime #1)
  • "Cache and Carry" (1988, Small Felonies; with Bill Pronzini, featuring Nameless)
  • "Deadly Fantasies" (April 1989, AHMM)
  • "All the Lonely People" (1989, Sisters in Crime)
  • "Silent Night" (1989, Mistletoe Mysteries)
  • "The Place that Time Forgot" (1990, Sisters in Crime #2)
  • "Somewhere in the City" (1990, Vol. 23, No. 2, The Armchair Detective)
  • "Final Resting Place" (1990)
  • "Benny's Place" (1991, A Woman's Eye)
  • "The Lost Coast" (1994, Deadly Allies #2)
  • "File Closed" (1995, The McCone Files)
  • "Knives at Midnight" (1996, Guilty As Charged)
  • "If You Can't Take the Heat" (1996, MHCMM; 1998, Lethal Ladies II)
  • "The Last Open File" (February 1997, EQMM)
  • "Solo" (April 1997, EQMM)
  • "One Final Arrangement" (Summer 1998, MHCMM)
  • "Recycle" (Summer 1999, MHCMM)
  • "Up at the Riverside" (1999, Irreconcilable Differences)
  • "The Imposter" (2001, The Mysterious Press Anniversary Anthology)




In 1993, a series of "movies of the week" for U.S. television were supposedly in production by the Canadian film company Telescene, based on the short stories and novels. I don't know what happened. As far as I know, they never surfaced...but in 2000, it was announced that Sharon McCone was being developed for CBS by Spring Creek Productions. The announcement was made by Charles Champlin at the Los Angeles premiere screening of Women of Mystery, a documentary featuring interviews with McCone, as well as Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky. That production has fallen through the cracks as well.


An interesting if dated interview with Marcia Muller and her husband, Bill Pronzini, on how they've found the write stuff in one another and in their then-15-year relationship. Written by David Templeton.

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Bluefox808 for the tip.

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