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A murder mystery in Pacific Heights


The first book in a planned San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery series, The Fog Ladies features a group of spunky older women and one overworked, overtired, overstressed medical intern who live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco — and then the older ladies start to die. 

The story is set in Pacific Heights in a building similar to the one I lived in years ago, minus the dying ladies. The neighborhood is as much a character in the story as the Fog Ladies themselves — with its beautiful 1920s and ’30s apartment buildings, nearby shopping streets, hills, views and pruned trees in winter. 

Cozy murder mysteries have no violence “on screen” and are character-driven, usually within an enclosed space confining all the characters, so the killer is among them. Think of the train in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, or that country estate where the unwitting go for the weekend. 

In the Pacific Heights apartment building where I lived on Broadway, tenants of all ages lived together: single people, young families with babies, middle-aged couples, older women. I quickly realized the building might be the right setting for a series of murders, with a killer afoot and nowhere to hide. 

In The Fog Ladies, Mrs. Bridge falls off a stool while cleaning bugs out of her kitchen light. Mrs. Talwin slips on bubbles in the bath and drowns. One of the other tenants, medical intern Sarah James, has no time for sleuthing. Her elderly neighbors have nothing but time. Sarah assumes the deaths are the natural consequence of growing old. The Fog Ladies assume murder.

The name “Fog Ladies” popped into my head as I thought about the older female characters and their special bond of friendship. When I lived in San Francisco, we all heard the same words on the radio nearly every day: “Early morning fog burning off by midday.” So young Sarah in the book believes you can count on the ladies just like you can count on the early morning fog.

Pacific Heights’ fine old apartment buildings provide the perfect setting for a cozy murder mystery. Apartment living, where tenants may have known each other and each other’s secrets for years, is rife for a whodunit. Add fog and foghorns, earthquakes and aftershocks, bay views and rooftop decks with tenuous railings, and you have the ideal neighborhood for a mystery.

Susan McCormick, a doctor now living in Seattle, also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a children’s picture book about Alzheimer’s disease. Her new novel is available through thewildrosepress.com.