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
PARTNER OF SAM SPADE,
WAS DONE IN BY
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!