Since I was a small child, I’ve been in love with San Francisco. I grew up in the East Bay town of Concord, California, which is about 30 miles east of San Francisco.
I’ve spent a good share of my life, going to San Francisco to have fun. Even though I live farther away from this magical city now, I still return and it is a place I dearly love.
One reviewer said of my Sam Slater Mystery books that one of the main characters in the books is the city of San Francisco. I’m excited to have “Fog City Strangler” published and available to readers. I plan at least two more in the series.
While I’m promoting “Fog City Strangler, I’m busy writing my next book in the series-- “Shadows In The Fog”--which should be out by the end of this year.
Last summer when I returned to the Bay Area I spent a day in San Francisco, drinking in the sites but also imaging different locations for my books. I wanted to refresh my memory in some cases and make sure things are as I remember. I research the locations as best I can, to imagine what they were like in the 1950s compared to now.
In some cases I do remember what it was like in the 1950s. For instance, one of my favorite locations in San Francisco is called the Cannery. My wife and I loved to go there and when we were dating in high school we would go to the Cannery, which is a collection of restaurants, shops and nearby is the old Ghirardelli Chocolate factory.
When Sam Slater walked the streets of San Francisco, the Cannery was still a cannery, for Dole Pineapple.
Last summer I visited Coit Tower and drove down the steep hills of Telegraph HIll. Coit Tower and the steep streets which surround it, figure prominently in the plot of “San Francisco Secrets.”
I also walked up and down Filbert Street where Sam and Amelia have a harrowing ride after the brakes on their car are tampered with in “San Francisco Secrets.”
I drove out to historic Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge which is a key location in the second book in the series “Deadly Plunge.” One of my favorite places in San Francisco is the Palace of Fine Arts. I walked around the pond on the path where a Russian diplomat is murdered in “Deadly Plunge.”
On my recent trips to San Francisco I’ve even driven through Sam and Amelia’s old neighborhood in the Mission District. It has changed a lot since the 1950s. For one thing, sadly there is a Safeway store on the hallowed ground once occupied by Seals Stadium. I will always think of Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan when I drive by the corner of 16th and Valencia. It’s the fictional location of Sam’s apartment building.
I love to use the photos from the San Francisco Historical Society in my books. I think they add a lot and hope readers agree. I have to get permission to use them and they have been wonderful to work with. They have copies of my books in their archives.
I’ve always been very fond of Stinson Beach, a beach town north of San Francisco, which is the location of key events in “Fog City Strangler.” I liked to go to Stinson Beach in the summer when I was a teenager. There were also a few occasions when I cut school with my friends and went to Stinson Beach. I always wondered how we got away with it. Me and my friends would return from our “sick day” with sunburned cheeks after our day at Stinson Beach.
I’ve always loved the movies of Alfred Hitchcock as you can probably tell from my books. I discovered a book called “Footsteps in the Fog.” Hitchcock shot several movies in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s. “Footsteps in the Fog” talks about the locations he used and showed photos of him scouting locations in the City-By-The-Bay.
I hope I’m following his footsteps in the fog.
I had one reader ask if all of the detail in “Last of the Seals,” “Deadly Plunge,” “San Francisco Secrets” and “Fog City Strangler” is real? My answer is as real as I can possibly make it. The 1950s world of San Francisco, where Sam and Amelia live, in very alive in my memory.
THE BEACH FIRE
November 29, 1958
Amelia Slater had only slept a short time before she was startled awake by crashing and banging noises outside the beach house on Stinson Beach where she was staying with her husband Sam Slater.
Shortly after she awoke, another physical sensation hit her as she regained consciousness. She was really cold. She tried to see if Sam was awake but the darkness was so thick that she couldn’t see him even though he was right next to her in the bed.
The house where Sam and Amelia were staying seemed to be right in the bull’s eye of an unusually fierce early winter storm that was zeroing in on the northern California coast. Storm warnings were up for the coast for high winds followed by heavy rains. The fury of the storm raged outside the large window of Sam and Amelia’s bedroom as the winds whistled through the rain gutters of the beach house and rattled the windows.
The two-story beach house was perched on a steep hill which thrust up from the sandy, wide beach below. The master bedroom where Sam and Amelia were sleeping had a large sliding glass door which opened out onto a deck that surrounded the house on the second story offering spectacular vistas of the beach below.
The beach house also had a round turret with a large leaded-glassed window of Neptune, Kind of the Sea, flanked by two large fish with curvy tails. On the roof was a large weather vane of a gray whale which was spinning like a top in the high winds.
Beach access from the house was a wooden stair case which was built on the steep hill that was covered by thick, low-growing masses of blooming ice plant. The staircase had obviously been replaced recently since the wood had not yet become the weathered gray color of the rest of the house. The raging storm was roiling the foamy surf which crashed onto Stinson Beach and was lapping up at the bottom of the wooden stairs.
Their sleep had been brief. In preparation for a stormy night, Sam and Amelia had found flashlights and candles to put on the nightstands on either side of the bed in case they lost power.
Sam detected Amelia stirring next to him in bed and tried to click on the lamp on the nightstand. It was then that he discovered that the house had no power. Sam reached into the darkness until his hand touched the flashlight. He then clicked it on to look at his wristwatch which was on the table. It was 1:15 a.m.
“Amelia,” Sam said softly, “are you awake?”
“Yeah,” came the reply out of the pitch darkness of the bedroom. “How could anyone sleep through this? I’ve been awake for a while. I didn’t want to bother you in case you had been able to get to sleep.”
“No such luck. It’s freezing in the house. I’m going to go check on things. Maybe I can get a fire going in the fireplace. Light the candles. I’m going to go see if the house is okay. I heard some really loud noises earlier.”
Sam didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm Amelia but he’d swear he had heard footsteps earlier, like someone running through the house. He couldn’t be sure because of the sounds of the raging storm.
Sam clicked on his flashlight so Amelia could find the matches. After she lit the first candle, Sam disappeared into the darkness. Amelia watched as the shafts of light from Sam’s flashlight vanished from sight as he began to walk through the house.
Amelia picked up the candle and made her way to a chair to retrieve her coat which she put on over her nightgown to fight off the chill. She listened intently and could hear some thumping noises. She wasn’t sure if source of the banging was Sam or the storm.
“Sam! Sam!” Amelia called. “Where are you? Sam, is that you?”
There was no response.
The large floor-to-ceiling glass doors which opened off of the bedroom were rattling to the point where Amelia wondered if they would be able to withstand the strong winds. Amelia heard noises outside on the deck and saw a shadowy figure throwing a large can which clanked onto the deck. The man then turned and ran. She strained her eyes against the dense darkness.
Amelia instinctively walked towards the glass doors. She wondered if the man on the deck was Sam. If it was, what was he doing?
She held up the candle but could see nothing. She reached for the flashlight on the table and clicked it on. Amelia shined it out the glass door, but she could see nothing but her own reflection. As she walked closer the beam of her flashlight fell on a red gas can lying on it’s side on the deck.
Amelia moved closer towards the door and then to her horror she saw flames racing across the deck outside the doors. Amelia was simultaneously confused and frozen with terror as she watched the deck become a wall of fire being buffeted by the high winds from the storm.
The bewildered Amelia shrieked before turning to run towards the bedroom door with the flashlight illuminating her path. She began shouting Sam’s name as loudly as she could. As she opened the bedroom door two shots rang out and ricocheted off the wall and door frame above her head.
Amelia squealed and retreated into the bedroom, slamming the door. She looked for a way to lock the door to protect her self from the assailant but there was no lock. It was an old fashioned lock that required a skeleton key.
There was so much noise from the fire roaring outside on the deck and that storm, that Amelia couldn’t tell if the shooter was pursuing her further or attempting to break down the bedroom door. She leaned against the door but knew she would be defenseless if the gunman wanted to force his way into the bedroom.
Where was Sam? Was he okay? Who fired the shots at her? Who set the deck on fire?
Amelia was now trapped between an unknown assailant outside her bedroom door and the fire raging on the deck on the other side of the glass doors. She knew she had just moments to make a decision about how to escape.
She decided to take her chance on the deck since the shadowy figure who fired the shots at her was undoubtedly just outside her bedroom.
Amelia tried to grasp the door handle to the sliding glass door but it was getting hot. She couldn’t figure out how to unlock it and didn’t have time in the darkness to deal with it. Amelia decided to take more direct action--she picked up a wooden chair and threw it at the large glass doors onto the deck.
The chair cracked the glass but mostly bounced off of the door and fell onto the floor. She quickly scanned the room for something heavier that she could throw through the glass door.
Amelia spotted a large metal paperweight on a writing desk in the bedroom. It looked like some kind of navigation tool from a boat. Amelia cocked her arm and threw it as hard as she could at the cracked glass door.
That did the trick, but the glass shards from the door went flying all over the bedroom floor and the deck. The breaking of the door only made her situation worse as the high winds now pushed the flames into the bedroom and closer to Amelia.
The curtains around the large glass door ignited as the fire now snaked it’s way towards Amelia. It was now going to be impossible for Amelia to escape onto the deck because of the intensity of the flames. Amelia let out a blood curdling scream. “Sam! Sam! Help! Sam, help me!”
The storm and the crackling of the fire which exploded into the bedroom onto new sources of fuel drowned out Amelia’s cries for help. She eyed the bedroom door and decided she had to open it and confront whatever was on the other side.
Sam had taken his gun when he left moments ago. She had no idea what had happened to him. The defenseless Amelia stood in front of the closed bedroom door, She glanced over her shoulder at the advancing flames.
Amelia didn’t know what awaited her on the other side of the door but she was going to have to make a break for it.
To her horror when she grabbed the knob and turned it but the door was locked. Someone had used a skeleton key to lock her in the burning bedroom.
She was trapped.
About the Author:
Greg Messel grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Edmonds, Washington on the Puget Sound with his wife, Carol. Fog City Strangler is his seventh novel and is the fourth in a new series of Sam Slater mystery novels. Greg has lived in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Utah and has always loved writing, including stints as a reporter, columnist and news editor for a daily newspaper.
Follow news about Messel’s writings and books at www.gregmessel.com.
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About the Book:
As 1958 nears an end San Francisco is being terrorized by a man who calls himself the “Fog City Strangler,” who preys on pretty young blonde women. The strangler announces each murder by sending a note and piece of cloth from the victim’s dresses to the local newspapers.
Private eye Sam Slater is worried that the Fog City Strangler may be eyeing his beautiful blonde wife, stewardess Amelia Ryan. Sam’s angst mounts as the strangler continues to claim more victims. His anxiety is further fueled when TWA launches an advertising campaign with Amelia’s picture on a series of billboards plastered all over the city. Sam fears the billboards may attract too much attention--the wrong kind of attention.
Meanwhile, Sam and Amelia are hired to try to find the missing daughter of a wealthy dowager who fears she has lost her only child. The missing woman went for a walk with her dog on Stinson Beach, near San Francisco, and seemingly vanished into thin air. The woman’s husband arrived at their beach house and found the dog running loose but there was no trace of his wife. The police are stumped in their investigation.
As Sam and Amelia look into the disappearance of the woman on the beach they discover that nothing is as it seems at first glance. On a stormy night a shadowy figure sets fire to the beach house where the couple is staying--hoping to stop their investigation.
Fog City Strangler is a stand-alone thriller but is part of the Sam Slater Mystery Series--Last of the Seals, Deadly Plunge and San Francisco Secrets.
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