By Barbara Seranella
I was ecstatic to make the acquaintance of Munch Mancini when I cracked open No Human Involved some 20 years ago.
I was binging on books featuring women detectives like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawksi, Karen Kijewski’s Kat Colorado, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.
Not only was Munch Mancini new to me, she was just the sort of character I like: courageous, loyal, irreverent, self-reliant and unconventional. And the story is set in Los Angeles.
On the first page of NO HUMAN INVOLVED, she’s accepting a drink from a man with “sad, baggy eyes . . . set in a basset hound face,” telling herself she’ll just have one more for the road and assessing his financial potential if he makes her an offer. And if he purchased her company, how much dope could she buy? But, wait, she’s stopped doing that less than 24 hours ago in response to events central to this story.
Munch lives in an ugly world where cruelty reigns, the fringe of Venice’s Ghost Town. Flower George, the man claiming to be her father, introduced her to sex, heroin and prostitution. The basset faced man with the sad eyes is Detective Sgt. Mace St. John. His long and growing list of unsolved cases includes Flower George’s murder. He’s in a tug-of-war with Robbery-Homicide Detective Ernie Potts for a case in which a victim’s arms and legs have been bound in chains and then torn from the body.
Munch’s goal is to get through withdrawal, stay out of jail, find a job and get a life. Through her life on the streets, she’s picked up good skills as a car mechanic. A small woman, she inspires friendship with people like Ruby, a Denny’s waitress, who gets her into Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous; and Jack, owner of Happy Jack’s Auto Repair in the San Fernando Valley, who hires her despite her unlikely appearance.
This story has more twists and turns than Mulholland Drive. Seranella keeps the suspense growing to the end. She has a good talent for creating likable, believable, three-dimensional characters who don’t always take a conventional path. The series is set in the late 1970s, so this is a world where the police department is just starting to get computerized; officers in different jurisdictions mail each other photos and reports; and detectives are big users of phone booths. However, the effect is more vintage than dated.
These are great books for summer reading.
The other books in the Munch Mancini series (in order) are:
- No Offense Intended (1999)
- Unwanted Company (2000)
- Unfinished Business (2001)
- No Man Standing (2002)
- Unpaid Dues (2003)
- Unwilling Accomplice (2004
About the Author: Barbara Seranella (1956 – 2007)
While the Munch Mancini series is fictional, there are many parallels between the lives of Munch and her creator Barbara Seranella.
Seranella, who was raised in Pacific Palisades, ran away at 14, joined a hippie commune in the San Francisco Bay area, learned how to fix cars hanging out with the guys on the street and rode with an outlaw motorcycle gang known as the Heathens.
She took up heroin at 17. For the next four years, she said, her life was “all-out suicidal craziness until I basically got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She stopped taking drugs five days before her 22nd birthday.
She married Walter Haring in 1982 and ended up raising two girls as her own, when their biological parents’ addiction and mental issues left them unable to care for them.
Seranella worked at an Arco station in Sherman Oaks for five years, and then at a Texaco station in Brentwood. There, she became service manager and married her boss, Ron Seranella, in 1994.
Her work won several awards: the Romantic Times’ Lifetime Achievement Award for best sleuth; a listing on the Los Angeles Times‘ Best Books of 2001 Mysteries and Thrillers designation for Unfinished Business; was a California Booksellers Association Fiction Award finalist in 2003 for Unpaid Dues; and a Willa Literary Awards finalist in 2003 for No Man Standing.
Seranella died at the age of 50 waiting for her third liver transplant. Her first one failed, requiring a second three days later.