"Hellbox" by Bill Pronzini
Published by Forge Books
Hardcover Edition: 302 pages
After 37 Nameless detective novels, a much-needed departure from the usual police procedural is justified.
Strong characterizations of setting and its inhabitants, tightly woven prose, heart-thumping suspense, Pronzini, the master of the detective story, proves why he is still at the top of his game. His newest Nameless novel is no exception.
Drawing on suspense more than mystery for this new outing, Pronzini dumps his readers into a fishbowl town known as Six Pines, inhabited with backwoods crazies and dark secrets, a small town south of Green Valley, where Bill and his wife Kerry are vacationing, taking a breather from their regular busy lives in San Francisco. Their daughter is missing in action, thankfully, spending time with her glee club friends back home.
Suspense builds in the prologue, at Green Valley Café, where an odd man known to the locals as Pete Balfour, or as some wiseass would snicker, "Mayor of A-hole Valley", makes a grave appearance. From the get-go, the endless slurs and askew side-glances put Balfour on edge, propelling him too far to the dark side, as innocent Kerry, hiking through the dark, deep woods by their soon-to-be second home, will soon discover.
As Nameless riles up Six Pines' lax deputy, Greg Broxmeyer, to search the grounds for Kerry, the story builds to a fever pitch for a grief-stricken Nameless. Summoning his friend and co-worker, Jake Runyon (who does not make an appearance in the story until chapter thirteen), only adds to the riveting, tireless hunt for Kerry's whereabouts. The investigation is a diversion from Pronzini's usual police procedurals and mystery, but the story kept me riveted, along with the author's deft hand at creating suspense, until the final page. I especially enjoyed seeing the introduction of a handful of new creepy characters. A bunch of delinquents is an understatement to describe the denizens of Six Pines.
As usual, gripping, top-notch storytelling, even amid the slight, but pleasant departure of Pronzini's police procedural (reason for my enthusiasm), makes Hellbox a consistently enjoyable escape, highlighting a skilled writer who knows how to keep pages turning with this deliciously creepy novel. Rated: A