Up and Down These Mean Streets

I’m thrilled that Serpent’s Doom (Zodiac Mystery #4) is featured on Don Herron’s Up and Down These Mean Streets (of San Francisco). If you’re there, make sure you sign up for one of Don’s Dashiell Hammett walking tours. You won’t regret it!

Mystery Ink

I’ll be with good friends Kim Fay (Love and Saffron) and Laurie Stevens (the Gabriel McRay thrillers) at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach at 1:00 p.m.  If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll stop by!

Read Your Writes

My interview with Kim at Read Your Writes is up today. It’s all about Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, a prequel novella to the Zodiac Mysteries.

An Infamous Celebrity

I’m always casting about for interesting locations to use in the Zodiac Mysteries.  Not just the historic or beautiful settings all around San Francisco, but the mysterious — secret stairways, dark alleys, and weird and haunted tunnels.

Julia Bonatti, my San Francisco astrologer, is a native – a rare thing, since most people come to the city from other places.  She grew up in her grandmother’s house on Castle Alley in North Beach, but now has her own place out on the Avenues, near the ocean where the fog rolls in every afternoon. 

Right around the corner from Julia’s apartment was (in real life) one of the most infamous residences in the city.  The home of Anton LaVey, San Francisco’s celebrity occultist and founder of the Church of Satan.  The house at 6114 California Street is gone now, but I remember it well.  It was completely black and surrounded by a dilapidated fence.  Local gossip and legends surrounded LaVey and his family.  His wild parties and Friday night sabbats in his home with his followers, and his pet panther Zoltan, were legendary. 

LaVey sported an immaculate goatee, always wore a flowing black cape and drove around town in his coroner’s van.  He had started his career playing the organ in a burlesque show but once his fame was established, he could be found playing the Wurlitzer at a local bar, the Lost Weekend, in the Sunset District.  He performed satanic blessings at the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf and he’s honored by his wax likeness there now.

Many legends and stories have followed LaVey – that he worked for the San Francisco Fire Department, played the devil in ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ performed satanic rituals in a rock tunnel at Land’s End and put a curse on the Sutro Baths that caused it to burn to the ground shortly after. 

LaVey was likely more a showman than a sorcerer so I doubt most of these stories are true.  What I do know for a fact is that he kept his pet lion Togar in his home.  His neighbors were very concerned about the lion, to say the least and one day, the lion escaped its cage and tore through the house, demolishing walls and plumbing.  LaVey and his family barricaded themselves in the bathroom and called out the window to neighbors for help.  Thankfully, Animal Control arrived and the family was saved. 

Some claim the rock tunnel at Land’s End is still haunted from LaVey’s rituals, and now a new apartment building stands where LaVey’s all black house once stood.  I do have to wonder if the people living in the new building at 6114 California Street know about LaVey’s legend or hear any eerie groans in the night. 

Famous Sleuths

I knew when I started to write my first mystery that it should be set in San Francisco, a city noted for its artists, poets, musicians and writers, not to mention breathtaking views, dark alleys, secret stairways and FOG, lots of fog!  And I wanted my protagonist to have an unusual profession, one that would put her in touch with people from all walks of life.  That’s how my crime-solving astrologer, Julia Bonatti, came to life. 

I’m not alone, of course.  There are many San Francisco mystery and thriller writers who have lived in, or written about the city.  And many people have investigated where some of these famous writers actually lived, or used their own address(es) for their fictional sleuth(s), like Sam Spade.

For example, Jack London was born at 615 Third Street.  Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, worked at the San Francisco Morning Call at 612 Commercial Street, now the location of the Transamerica Pyramid.  One of my favorite locations is the Seal Rock Inn at 545 Point Lobos Avenue at Land’s End.  The Seal Rock Inn is still there and still welcoming guests, but for a long time, it was the residence of author and journalist, Hunter S. Thomson.  Thomson wrote Hell’s Angels (1967), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1972).  Those last books were written in Room 204, a room with a breathtaking view of Land’s End.  Thomson’s lines conjure up the setting: 

“Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 a.m. . . . at the Seal Rock Inn . . . out here at the far end of Geary Street: this is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America.”

He also wrote that listening to the 200 seals (actually sea lions) on the rocks at Lands End was a lot like spending the night in a dog pound. 

But my all-time favorite San Francisco author is Dashiell Hammett, who lived in several different apartments while he wrote The Maltese Falcon, The Continental Op, The Glass Key and other books.  Hammett lived at 620 Eddy Street in the early 1920’s.  He suffered from the Spanish Flu (his generation’s pandemic) and tuberculosis.  He was so worried about his wife and young baby, that he moved to 891 Post Street, Apartment 401 where he wrote Red Harvest, The Dain Curse and The Maltese Falcon, and finished The Maltese Falcon while living at 1155 Leavenworth, Apartment 2. 

If you’re interested in the works of Dashiell Hammett, check out Up and Down These Mean Streets, the website of Don Herron, a San Francisco mystery and thriller (particularly Hammett) enthusiast and expert.  And if you’re ever in the city, don’t miss his famous walking tours!

Hammett used the apartment at 891 Post Street for Spade’s residence in The Maltese Falcon.  And 20 Monroe Street is now re-named 20 Dashiell Hammett in his honor. 

Just before the Stockton Tunnel overpass is a well-known plaque that reads: 

ON APPROXIMATELY THIS SPOT
MILES ARCHER,
PARTNER OF SAM SPADE,
WAS DONE IN BY
BRIGID O’SHAUGHNESSY

My sleuth, San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti, lives at 366 30th Avenue, just a few blocks from the Seal Rock Inn.  I won’t reveal why I chose that address for Julia, but I can tell you she loves living close to the ocean and hearing the sound of the fog horns day and night!