Pennies on a Dead Woman’s Eyes

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Communist fears of the 1950’s, political corruption, and the decadence of San Francisco’s high society provide the backdrop for private eye Sharon McCone’s newest adventure. Lis Benedict, convicted of the mutilation-murder of socialite Cordy McKittridge, has just been released from prison after serving a thirty-six-year sentence. In 1956, the viciousness of the “Two Penny Murder” had shocked both the public and authorities. Man-crazy debutante Cordy McKittridge had been brutally dismembered and ritualistically laid out with a copper penny covering each eye. A motive for Lis had been quickly established when it came out that she was aware of her husband’s plans to leave her for Cordy.

More than three decades later, Lis’s daughter Judy is still eager to prove her mother’s innocence—convincing criminal-law specialist Jack Stuart (McCone’s cohort at All Souls Legal Cooperative) to represent Lis at a mock trial before San Francisco’s esteemed Historical Tribunal. As a favor to Jack, McCone reluctantly reinvestigates, only to find herself emotionally effected and eerily haunted by the details of the crime. When Lis is suddenly found dead, and McCone herself is threatened, the private eye renews her determination to solve the dirty little mystery behind this famous case. She pursues many leads, but it is her ultimate ploy—a desperate attempt to re-create the crime scene at the old Seacliff estate—that finally allows the heinous truth to surface.

Marcia Muller’s carefully woven plot has more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street. Sharon McCone fans will not be disappointed by this cliff-hanger, darkly flavored by the aura of America’s most ruthless decade.