In 1971, author Bill Pronzini was only 27 when he wrote The Snatch, building on a shorter and different version of the story that appeared in the May 1969 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine under the same title. With the publication of this book, one of detective fiction's great characters was born with full fledged power and authenticity. If you have not yet read the Nameless Detective novels by Mr. Pronzini, you have a major treat ahead of you. Many of these are now out-of-print, so be sure to check your library for holdings in near-by cities.
The Nameless Detective is referred to that way because Mr. Pronzini never supplies a name until the fifth book in the series, Twospot, although he begins toying with the reader about this point in Blowback, which is the fourth book in the series. I won't reveal that name here.
Mr. Pronzini presents a world in which many men take evil actions to further selfish interests, and many women and children suffer because of that selfishness. The police and private investigators suffer along with the victims, for evil-doing has painful consequences for everyone. Mr. Pronzini's plots are complex, yet he provides plenty of clues to help you identify the evil-doer on your own. Despite the transparency of many plots, he successfully uses plot complications to keep the action interesting and fresh.
But the reason to read the books is because of the character development for the Nameless Detective. Nameless is a former police officer in San Francisco who collects pulp fiction about tough private detectives. Overcome by the evil he sees as a police officer and drawn to the complex imagery of the strong, silent hero who rights wrongs, Nameless tries to live that role as a private detective. But he has trouble getting clients, and operating as a one-man shop causes him to lead a lonely existence. In his personal life, his career keeps women at a distance. Like a medieval knight errant, he sticks to his vows and pursues doing the right thing . . . even when it doesn't pay. At the same time, he's very aware of art, culture and popular trends. And he doesn't like much of what he sees. At the same time, he's troubled by a hacking cough that cigarettes make worse . . . but doesn't really want to know what causes his phlegm to rise. He's been afraid of doctors since he saw them operating on wounded men during World War II.
The books are also written in a more sophisticated version of the pulp fiction style, employing greater style through language and plot. The whole experience is like looking at an image in a series of mirrors that reflect into infinity.
These books are a must for those who love the noir style, and the modern fans of tough detectives with a heart of gold like Spenser . . . and can live without the wise cracks and repartee.
In Blowback, Nameless has finally gone to see a doctor and found out that he has a lesion on one of his lungs. Within a few days, a test will reveal whether the lesion is malignant or not. Nameless is extremely anxious and depressed at the same time. While waiting to hear, Nameless receives a call from an old friend from the service, Harry Burroughs. Harry's having trouble at his fishing camp, and wants Nameless to help out. Nameless agrees to come . . . but cannot promise for how long.
Traveling high into the Sierras into the Gold Rush country, Nameless finds an emotional tinder box. The fishing camp is filled with men, except for the flirtatious Angela Jerrold. Ms. Jerrold has every man in camp dreaming of being with her, which enrages her husband to the limits of his emotional strength. Something's bound to give in such a situation . . . but the precipitating event comes from left field and seems unconnected with the Jerrolds and the camp. But is it?
During the course of this novel, Nameless must not only help his old buddy keep his fishing camp, he also must face his demons about whether he wants to live or die.
Of the first five novels in the Nameless Detective series, this one is by far the best for creating emotional tension and exploring the psychology of the characters.
The mystery isn't too hard to figure out, but the clues are more subtle than usual in a Pronzini book . . . so think carefully about everything you read.
I especially enjoyed the commentaries by Nameless about how tourism has spoiled the authenticity of the Gold Rush country towns. Mr. Pronzini certainly has that point right.
If you haven't had a medical check-up lately, this might be a good time to get one. Early detection of many diseases can make a big difference in whether you live or die.