Saturday, September 16, 2023

Spotlight of The Rotting Whale by Jann Eyrich




In this first case in the new Hugo Sandoval Eco-Mystery series, an old-school San Francisco building inspector with his trademark Borsalino fedora must reluctantly venture outside his beloved city and find his sea legs before he can solve the mystery of how a 90-ton blue whale became stranded, twice, in a remote inlet off the North Coast.

September 2023
Sibylline Press
"Jann Eyrich artfully merges the realms of mystery and environmentalism to create an enthralling new genre: the eco-mystery."—D.D. Black, author of The Shadow of Pike Place, A Thomas Austin Crime Thriller

The Rotting Whale seamlessly blends the intrigue of a classic mystery with a thought-provoking environmental theme. Jann Eyrich’s eloquent writing style draws readers into the heart of San Francisco and the noir ambience of a city on the brink of change. Readers of Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man Series and Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Series should head to their favorite bookstore immediately." ―D.D. Black, author of The Shadow of Pike Place, A Thomas Austin Crime Thriller

"The Rotting Whale, the debut novel by Jann Eyrich, sparkles like the sea. Vibrant characters, an intriguing plot, and a setting with so much detail and depth you can almost taste the salty breeze.—Janice Peacock, author of Born to Bead Wild, A Glass Bead Mystery

"Jann Eyrich has given us Hugo Sandoval, a San Francisco building inspector as a new kind of detective—he sees everything. A blue whale washes up on the beach in Mendocino and sets off a string
of events that includes murder, extortion, mayhem—and a love story. Or two. Page-turning, dripping with atmosphere, a full cast of quirky supporting characters, and a bid to save the planet in a
necessary new genre: the eco-mystery. "—Julia Park Tracey, author of Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, The Veronika Layne: Hot Off the Press series

“A classic in the tradition of the best SF novelists.”— Margo Merck, Warnecke Institute


"In The Rotting Whale, Jann Eyrich artfully merges the realms of mystery and environmentalism to create an enthralling new genre: the eco-mystery. 

Eyrich’s prose is rich, painting vivid images of both the natural and urban landscapes that serve as the backdrop for Hugo Sandoval’s adventure. 

Readers will find themselves captivated by the offbeat hero as he ventures from the familiar streets of San Francisco to the rugged Mendocino Coast to unravel the enigma of a stranded blue whale

The Rotting Whale is also a tale of personal growth; Eyrich delves into the complexities of Hugo’s relationships with his daughter, ex-wife, and a motley crew of secondary characters. 

These vibrant personalities, each with their own quirks, lend depth to the story, complementing the central mystery and providing support to Hugo as he navigates the mystery.



Staring down the fury of the Pacific was a huge leap for the reluctant exile from the city—and not just in a physical sense. Hugo’s contact with the ocean before his daughter’s cry for help had been limited to summer excursions to Ocean Beach with Carmen and Ava. Growing up in North Beach, the mysteries of Chinatown loomed only a block away for the young Hugo, and dangerously so. Whatever had been sticking out of the ice mounds in the window of Henry Fong’s seafood market on Jackson Street told tales of a mythical saltwater world, far beyond the sands of Ocean Beach. The snapper, black bass, stripers, squid, eel, all neatly lined up along Grant Avenue were disturbing enough. But when his mother would drag him inside Fong’s, the boy faced a nightmare of bubbling tanks packed with live Dungeness crabs fighting for air, bus tubs of dead redfish with bulging eyeballs, and twitching lobsters packed tighter than the 30 Stockton bus. As a result, Hugo had grown up thinking the ocean was mighty crowded.
Hugo was born to a City sculpted by its geography. He appreciated the symphonic arrangement of the famous San Francisco hills lovingly captured on three sides by ocean and bay. It was those hills and the saddles between that shaped neighborhoods and nurtured diverse cultures. Raised above a Basque restaurant on the border of North Beach and Chinatown, Hugo’s world was a bubbling soup of internal refugees of which he was one.
Even at a young age, he recognized that the complexity of economic and ethnic elements around him—languages, traditions, food, music—were all part of the soup. He was hooked early on and explored as if he were ordained by Marco Polo himself. Hugo continued to roam the 49 square mile peninsula as an adult. To ground his thoughts, the building inspector and Venetian’s acolyte, often sought out his favorite perches to restore his ballast and clarity with his City.
    Whether pedaling his Gitane or on foot, Hugo could reach his favorite perches throughout the City, beginning with Klockar’s on Folsom Street, where, when standing next to 82-year-old blacksmith Tony Rosellini, Hugo could observe a cross-section of the downtown rise through the open shop doors, a view that revealed a constant morphosis of the skyline accented with colorful comments from Tony’s eclectic posse; and at nearby Red’s where, randomly seated at the counter of the waterfront dive, the City boy could hold court at water’s edge while people-watching over a ham sandwich. In Washington Square Park, Hugo always found his footing and Rocco, his patron. Their park bench provided courtside seats to a ground game of cultures living in harmony; and up a circular staircase to the top of Fort Point, where the intimidating view from the roof beneath the arch of the russet golden bridge challenged his acrophobia. Finally, returning home to the rooftop of JM’s Edwardian flat, by far the most reflective, intimate view and one which required of the explorer little or no advance planning—a familiar perch where Hugo could find solace in knowing the view had changed little in his lifetime.
As he approached the rocky spine of Chicken Cove, Hugo thought how, as the son of immigrants whose lives had been cut short, he had worked hard to nurture a legacy he could pass on to his daughter. It was crazy but he had to wonder if he had really told her how proud he was of her, of her independence, of her heart. Here she was before him, completely at home, knee-deep in swirling tidepools in the lingering autumn of 2011; a good a time as any to show his faith in her.
    Ava looked up from the messy necropsy on the Blue to watch her father climb to a new perch above the beach. What was he thinking? Although no more than maybe two stories above sea level, the rocky spine was beyond his limit. A shot of fear ran through her. It made her think back to the time when he took the hand of a timid seven-year-old, and together they climbed out a stubborn casement window onto a balcony of her elementary school. “Courage,” her father told her that day.
Now, covered up to her chest in the cetacean’s blood and guts, Ava remembered how the two of them looked down on the school grounds and watched her schoolmates line up for the buses or walk home hand in hand. They could see some stayed behind on the playground where a basketball would appear or a book, or a half-eaten sandwich. She could see over the rooftops of the City, even through the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge to the shimmering ocean beyond.
And so, while standing inside the belly of the whale, Ava knew exactly what her father was doing 20 feet above her, where he was precariously but tenderly balanced on the rocks.
 “Courage,” Ava exhaled.
With a solid base in California geology, Hugo knew he was climbing on the leading edge of an active plate. Securing his Borsalino, he worked his way between the tidepool and the open beach towards the point. Fear of drowning was dwarfed by the desire to see how the Blue could have possibly navigated the old doghole port, twice. As he made his way along the spine, he imagined ships tying up to the rocks, the chutes sending lumber down from the flat headlands. If a ship could sail through the entrance to Chicken Cove, why not a whale?
    Careful to avoid spikey urchins, flowery anemones, and piano key clusters of goose barnacles in the pits and puddles of the tidepools, Hugo pressed on. Near the point he startled a Black Oystercatcher with fetching orange bill and feet. The shorebird protested the intrusion with a series of sharp cries and weeers, but Hugo remained steady. The thunderous roar of the ocean greeted him at the highest viewpoint, wrapping him in a seductively rich sea mist where Hugo became one with the cove and part of its story as he balanced on the pinnacle. The exhilaration of the climb was only muted by the drama of the scenes below. On one side of the rocky spine, the deconstructed 90-foot-long Blue whale remained wedged in the crook of the tidepools, while on the other side, her newborn calf rested on soft sands.
    From his new perch, Hugo observed the wave action rushing through the isthmus to Chicken Cove. What was the secret to entering this narrow passage so vehemently defended by rocks above and below the surface? In the last notes of daylight, he tried to imagine the final ride of the whale and her calf. There was no question in his mind, it was a one in a million shot.
Resting in the tidepools, the mother whale’s skin that remained intact showed the impact of the pinball-like ride, but her calf was practically unmarked as it lay peacefully on the crescent-shaped beach. How had the newborn become stranded on the far side of the rocks without getting banged up? Hugo dismissed Ava’s theory that, while the Blue had most likely given birth in the Cove, the tides alone were responsible for separating mother and calf. From his perch, Hugo watched wave after wave confirming what he suspected. The cetologist’s theory just didn’t hold water; the sea was not to blame.
The October tides were seasonally low, but even so Hugo was in danger of stranding himself. For a moment he was frozen with fear, but he remembered how his therapist taught him to breathe. Ava waved with both arms for him to return to shore but before he scrambled off the rocks, he took a long look at his daughter. Below him Ava stood knee-deep in fifty-degree tidepools with one reassuring hand on the whale as her crew secured her for the night. Hugo snapped photos to send to Sara back at Otis Street.
On the beach, Hugo’s Borsalino no longer smelled of the estuarine waters of the San Francisco Bay; the fedora had taken on the salty sea spray of the Pacific. When his daughter playfully took it from his head and placed it on her own, Hugo grimaced as his girl, suited in flesh-splattered hip waders, fitted the Borsalino to her head with her bright blue elbow length whale-speckled gloves.  
“What’s next?” Hugo asked his fearless daughter. The image of the 10-year-old Ava’s triumphant face after her solo row across Stow Lake matched the radiance of the woman’s face before him.
“Dinner, I hope. Dad, what an amazing day.” Ava was tired but excited.
“I’m so proud of you,” the dad confessed.
She gratefully took it in but then considered what was next indeed.
“The vet from the marine lab opened up the major organs and collected samples all afternoon; that’s done. And I know Daisy and her volunteers are hoping to preserve the bones for the town, but we still have about 80 tons of blubber to cut away; it’s an enormous task. Thank goodness members of the Yurok tribe arrived with special knives to speed things up.”
“So why the long face, baby?”
“I’m not sure we have enough time. Progress is slow and we still haven’t figured out how to get sections of the Blue up the cliff; it’s too dangerous by hand.” Ava couldn’t hide the angst in her voice. “In a week the high tides return. When they do, we’ll lose her.”


Excerpt from The Rotting Whale: #1 in the Hugo Sandoval Eco-Mystery Series



Hailing from Cincinnati, the writer's spiritual roots are tethered to rural Northern Michigan. 


After setting anchor in San Francisco, Jann roamed from LA to New York, traversing the land from the Four Corners to "The Kingdom" in Vermont 

Trained as a documentary filmmaker, Jann has written environmentally-themed screenplays and ranges her works from articles and short stories to this blog which serves as a record of social change and cultural insurrection in San Francisco – as seen through the eyes of a building inspector

Today, the writer lives in Northern California looking for that pass to connect her hillside cottage to the open sea.







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