Poking around the archive, I found a rare novel by my beloved Jack Vance. Written in 1965 and published under Jack's full name in 1967, John Holbrook Vance's The Pleasant Grove Murders is a murder mystery set in the fictional San Rodrigo County in northern California, a few hours drive southeast of San Francisco. It would seem that Jack Vance was in a 'mystery' phase of his career during the 60s, as even his Science Fiction tales, such as 1961
s The Moon Moth (one of my absolute favorites) and 1964's The Star King and The Killing Machine were mysteries. The Pleasant Grove Murders itself is a sequel to The Fox Valley Murders, published in 1966... which I foolishly found after I'd read The Pleasant Grove Murders.
Jack Vance didn't use quite so flowery an idiom in his mysteries as he did in his Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction. The long, flowery dialogues between amoral reprobates in decadent settings are absent from his contemporary fiction. Nevertheless, The Pleasant Grove Murders is unmistakably Vance- the novel begins with a long introduction to the cast of characters, providing a suitable array of suspects. There's the haughty girl from a wealthy family, the obsessive teenage boy who hates her as much as he years for her, the snobby aristocratic boy... all typical Vance archetypes. The protagonist, Sheriff Joe Bain, is a typically competent individual, but not a macho wish-fulfillment figure- his wife left him for a 'cowboy singer', he lives with his mother and headstrong teenage daughter, and lives in the shadow of his predecessor, the flamboyant Sheriff Cucchinello (the sort of showoff who'd ride a white horse in the county parade, but send his Deputy, Joe Bain, to handle a dangerous situation. Joe Bain fits well into the tradition of rural police officers thrown into incongruously violent circumstances, such as Marge Gunderson. Faced with a growing body count on a street populated by the town's wealthy and influential, he frets about the future of his electoral prospects. As he conducts the investigation, he contends with a hostile newspaper publisher, an alluring 'New Agey' type who fancies herself an alien, and a deranged ranch hand who precipitates a violent standoff (Vance uses this sideline to highlight Sheriff Bain's cool-headedness and guile in the course of duty).
If you are a fan of whodunits, I would suggest that you give John Holbrook Vance a try. His descriptive passages are gorgeous, his character studies well-sketched in economical fashion. For me, the book didn't reach the empyrean heights of his better-known SFF fiction, but my opinion is nuncupatory.