| November 2010
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By Corrie M. Anders
Ed Rosenberg, the protagonist in A Killing in Real Estate, Noe Valley novelist Michael Castleman’s latest murder mystery, has a dilemma that many San Franciscans can appreciate. Rosenberg and his wife want to trade their newly renovated but small house, located on Fair Oaks Street, for a larger residence in the heart of Noe Valley. Problem is, the sale of their Victorian cottage won’t net enough to allow the family to move up the hill.
Rosenberg is a local-history columnist for a San Francisco newspaper. While the journalist is pondering his options, a colleague at the paper, a real estate writer, is brutally murdered when someone smashes a statue of Jesus onto his head. The death of his friend sends the reporter into the crosshairs of a Hatfield-McCoy-style feud that involves kinky sex, Mission District gangs, arson, real estate shenanigans, and the nasty dockworkers strike of 1934 that brought labor leader Harry Bridges to national prominence.
Published last month, A Killing in Real Estate (MacAdam/Cage, $24 hardcover, $13 paperback) is Castleman’s third Ed Rosenberg novel. The story hopes to engage readers on three fronts.
“The main story is a fairly standard whodunit—which has to do with real estate development in the Mission District,” says Castleman.
The second is the Rosenbergs’ housing dilemma, “which is a common enough thing in San Francisco,” says Castleman. “They can’t pull enough money out [to buy a bigger house], and Ed feels stumped.”
And then there’s history. “Part of what I’m trying to do is make San Francisco history come alive in the context of these novels,” says Castleman. “I’ve always been saddened by the fact that the big dock strike of ’34 is sort of forgotten. In labor circles it’s well known. But if you ask the average person about Harry Bridges, they’ll say, ‘Who’s that?’”
Castleman, 60, lives with his wife, Anne, a doctor, on Alvarado Street, across from another mystery writer, Cara Black. After a nearly 40-year career as a health writer—he’s the author of 12 health books—Castleman says he is transitioning into full-time fiction. He’s already started to pen his fourth Ed Rosenberg novel, this one revolving around the Haight-Asbury and the 1960s.
In writing A Killing in Real Estate, Castleman says he was merely following the adage to “write what you know.” He and his wife once restored a tenants-in-common building on Elizabeth Street, where they lived for seven years, and recently completed a major renovation of their current home.
Castleman says he has no plans to move. But if you’re wondering whether Ed Rosenberg and his wife found a new pad, you’ll have to read the book or ask Castleman directly. Following his Noe Valley appearance Oct. 31 at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, Castleman continues on tour this month with four engagements in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, he’ll appear Nov. 10, 7 p.m., at Books Inc. on Van Ness. For information, call 776-1111 or visit AKillingInRealEstate.com.
Excerpt from “A Killing in Real Estate” by Michael Castleman
Ed Rosenberg closed the front door and tried to admire his old Victorian’s new four-color paint job. But that was impossible. The smell of smoke was too intense. It stung his eyes and constricted his chest. The previous night, only three blocks away, a half-finished condo behemoth had gone up like newsprint dipped in gasoline.
A snake of fear slithered up Ed’s back. The fires were now too close for comfort. The loft building wasn’t occupied, but his house was. For a moment, he plunged into a vision of hell, flames shooting out his windows, 10-year-old Sonya and infant Jake screaming. He exhaled deeply, forcing the nightmare away.
Until last night, all the buildings torched in the Mission’s rash of arson fires had been located a dozen blocks east of Ed’s quiet street, sufficiently distant to keep him from feeling personally threatened. Last night’s fire changed that. It was practically around the corner, a 24-unit development whose wooden bones went up like kindling. With every breath, lingering smoke stung Ed’s nostrils. He loved his house. He’d just completed nine long years of paying an army of contractors several body parts to transform a 19th-century workingman’s cottage into a 21st-century family home. He’d lived in the neighborhood for years and thought he’d made his peace with its rough edges. Now he wasn’t so sure. He had a family to consider.
They spotted the flames on their way home from the movie, orange tongues licking the night. They held their breath before realizing it was a few blocks from them. Returning from taking the sitter home, Ed felt like a moth drawn to a candle. But he couldn’t get close. The area was cordoned off, red and blue lights flashing everywhere. The street was mobbed. The neighborhood had turned out to watch.
Julie shut their fancy new windows, but acrid smoke still seeped in. Neither of them slept well. She woke him at 2:30. “We have to talk.”
Excerpted from A Killing in Real Estate, a novel by Michael Castleman. Copyright ©2010 by Michael Castleman. Published by MacAdam/Cage, San Francisco. All rights reserved.