Author Bill Pronzini's series PI, known only as "Nameless," has gotten older, grayer, and wiser since he made his first appearance in print. But this case, his 26th, is a first of sorts: a widow who turns down the $50,000 payout from a life insurance policy on her husband, who died in a straightforward enough highway accident caused by a drunk driver. There's nothing fishy about the circumstances of Jack Hunter's death, but something odd turns up when the protagonist looks into Hunter's life: it seems to have started only a decade ago. Sheila Hunter, whose background is equally obscured, is not only not talking, she's deathly afraid. And the only clue Nameless has to go on is one word uttered by the widow before she clams up: "Crazybone."
It's not until the method employed in a series of murders long buried in the Hunters' past is revealed that the meaning of the word (and the title) becomes clear. But before that happens, the couple's 10-year-old daughter convinces the detective that there's more to the story than Sheila Hunter's surprising lack of interest in collecting the money due her--and steals his heart as well. Pronzini is a master craftsman, and his series hero doesn't need a name to make readers accompany him willingly as he steers a moral course through the affluent California setting of his novels. The ending has a small surprise that bodes well for the author's next book; until then, his extensive backlist should keep new "Nameless" fans entertained. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Pronzini is a pro. His Nameless Detective is a characterful narrator, and the northern California settings, here as always, are splendidly realized. This time out an insurance company hires Nameless to check into why Sheila Hunter, a glamorous widow with a small daughter, declined to accept the payout on her late husband's sudden accidental death policy. It turns out that Sheila has her own very good reasons for wanting to remain as anonymous as possible. What to do with her appealing little girl seems her main concern. Nameless finds himself involved more deeply than he wants to be when the woman disappears and the child has no one else to turn to. Meanwhile, the elderly neighbor of his feisty mother-in-law dies mysteriously at their retirement home, and what can he do about that? Needless to say, Nameless solves both crimes, though the subplot seems a little perfunctory. The great pleasure here is the voice: civilized, thoughtful, a tad cranky. Nameless is a keen observer of his fellow man (and woman)Aand by no means someone given to false heroics. He can be funny without being mean or silly (a drunken party scene is priceless) and never fails to play fair with the reader. It's a strong collection of virtues that has carried him through some two dozen expert thrillers, to which this is a fine addition. (Aug.)
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