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- Published on Amazon.com
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 Twospot, two books prior in the series, when police lieutenant Frank Hastings tells what his poker playing friends call Nameless, employing a first name. But it's never acknowledged by Nameless that this is his name . . . so it's probably a nickname. That name is not then used again until much later in the series. You can learn about why Nameless has no name in an author's note in Case File, which comes later in the series.
Mr. Pronzini presents a world in which people take evil actions to further selfish interests, and many innocents struggle 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 of the early plots, he successfully uses plot complications to keep the action interesting and fresh. Beginning with Labyrinth, the book that precedes this one, the plots become less simple.
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. He's a proud Italian in his 50's, could stand to lose some weight, and is really messy. So there's an element of Don Quixote here, too.
The books are also written in a more sophisticated version of the pulp fiction style, employing a better writing style and greater range 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.
Hoodwink is a culmination of the character development in many ways. Former pulp writer and current hack Russell Dancer invites Nameless to the first annual Western Pulp Convention in San Francisco. He wants Nameless to help him locate the person who is trying to blackmail Dancer for a purported plagiarism of a story called "Hookwink." Arriving at the convention, Nameless discovers that a group of former friends (and now uncomfortable colleagues) who wrote for the pulps called the "Pulpeteers" have all received blackmail notes.
Nameless is in seventh heaven as he meets many of his favorite pulp writers, buys pulps for his collection and meets a stunning younger woman who is the daughter of two famous pulp writers. For once, Nameless has some luck with the ladies. But is Kerry Wade attracted to him, or to his job as a private eye? Is he really attracted to her, or to her connection to the pulps?
The convention is unexpectedly disrupted when one of the guests is found dead in a locked room while Russell Dancer is holding a gun that's been recently fired. It looks like an obvious case of murder by Dancer, who has been feuding with the man. Dancer denies his guilt, and only Nameless is willing to believe him. As Nameless tracks down the guilty party, he finds himself faced with a second locked room mystery . . . and a target for a murderer.
If you like imaginative locked room mystery solutions, Hoodwink contains two of the better ones that I have read. The first one is far from obvious, and takes a good visual imagination to appreciate. The second one is a variation on one you've read before that will please you.
I found that the mixing up of Nameless into the genre created delicious ramifications. This book is for connoisseurs of the mystery genre, whether they like the noir style or not.
Hoodwink also made me think about how appearances can be deceiving, especially if we jump to conclusions. It made me want to know the hearts and minds of those I meet before I draw any conclusions about them. That perspective was a nice treat.