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Sentinels: A Nameless Detective Novel [Paperback]

Bill Pronzini
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 15 2002 Pronzini, Bill
A "worried mother" job takes "Nameless" to a California backwater, where college student Allison McDowell has disappeared with her mysterious new boyfriend on a drive from Oregon to San Francisco. And behind a simple missing-persons case lies a sinister—and deadly—conspiracy. "'Nameless' is a good man to walk you through the noir landscape."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review "'Nameless' has become an American treasure.... A stunning and unique achievement in crime fiction."—Booklist "One of the best in the mystery-suspense field is Bill Pronzini."—Washington Post

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Baiting Hate Bears Painful Consequences Nov. 24 2003
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
If you have not read other Nameless Detective novels, I suggest that you at least read Hardcase before this one. Although this is a standalone novel, the earlier book provides helpful context for Sentinels. Those who love noir fiction in the 30s style will find this book to be a dark update with a contemporary flavor.
The case is simply that of a missing person, but the client is the missing person's mother. There may be nothing wrong . . . or there could be. After the mother's contacts end with her daughter, Nameless heads for where the daughter was last seen, the tiny town of Creekside in northern California. The people there aren't used to strangers and feel inclined to protect their own. As a result, the book has an atmosphere like so many detective novels where it's one person against the town. But Nameless does get help from some people in town, and is eventually able to uncover an undercurrent of white supremacist feelings. How might that backdrop be connected?
As the story unwinds, Nameless uses his usual nerviness to learn the town's secrets while running grave personal risks.
Nameless also develops his working relationship with Tamara Corbin, his new assistant, who becomes a big help with the case.
The book is unusually weak in its character development. That's usually one of Mr. Pronzini's strengths. You usually get a strong sense of the intellect, psychology and background of each character. Instead, he tries here to portray a number of people as unintelligent, weak-minded and corrupt. The characterizations come across as conclusions rather than as being supported by your own reactions to the situation.
The counterpoint is that the dark mood is well developed. It's too bad that it was developed at the cost of the characters.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Pronzini's done much better than this Jan. 19 2003
Format:Paperback
This is the weakest Nameless detective novel I've read.
A couple of college kids go missing. Nameless traces them to a town composed almost entirely of bigots. Without giving anything away, I can only say that once a possible motive for murder is discovered (fairly early in the novel), the rest is slow going.
Though Pronzini clearly has plenty of anger towards racism, he has no real insight to offer, and I didn't have much interest in seeing which of his mob of cardboard villains is guilty of murder.
For a much better Nameless Detective novel, try Hardcase.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pronzini's done much better than this Jan. 19 2003
By Mark McGlone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the weakest Nameless detective novel I've read.
A couple of college kids go missing. Nameless traces them to a town composed almost entirely of bigots. Without giving anything away, I can only say that once a possible motive for murder is discovered (fairly early in the novel), the rest is slow going.
Though Pronzini clearly has plenty of anger towards racism, he has no real insight to offer, and I didn't have much interest in seeing which of his mob of cardboard villains is guilty of murder.
For a much better Nameless Detective novel, try Hardcase.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Baiting Hate Bears Painful Consequences Nov. 24 2003
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you have not read other Nameless Detective novels, I suggest that you at least read Hardcase before this one. Although this is a standalone novel, the earlier book provides helpful context for Sentinels. Those who love noir fiction in the 30s style will find this book to be a dark update with a contemporary flavor.
The case is simply that of a missing person, but the client is the missing person's mother. There may be nothing wrong . . . or there could be. After the mother's contacts end with her daughter, Nameless heads for where the daughter was last seen, the tiny town of Creekside in northern California. The people there aren't used to strangers and feel inclined to protect their own. As a result, the book has an atmosphere like so many detective novels where it's one person against the town. But Nameless does get help from some people in town, and is eventually able to uncover an undercurrent of white supremacist feelings. How might that backdrop be connected?
As the story unwinds, Nameless uses his usual nerviness to learn the town's secrets while running grave personal risks.
Nameless also develops his working relationship with Tamara Corbin, his new assistant, who becomes a big help with the case.
The book is unusually weak in its character development. That's usually one of Mr. Pronzini's strengths. You usually get a strong sense of the intellect, psychology and background of each character. Instead, he tries here to portray a number of people as unintelligent, weak-minded and corrupt. The characterizations come across as conclusions rather than as being supported by your own reactions to the situation.
The counterpoint is that the dark mood is well developed. It's too bad that it was developed at the cost of the characters.
I was also disappointed to find out that much of the story line didn't connect very well to the rest of the story. It made the main story line seem more like a short story than a full-fledged book.
This is my least favorite book in the series.
As I finished the book, I found myself wondering how my own actions might sometimes trigger hateful reactions in others.
2.0 out of 5 stars This entry in a good overall series is thin on story, characters, and place June 28 2007
By viewer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Bill Pronzini is a skilled storyteller and my favorite among a group of able writers of light, straight, credible detective fiction which includes his wife Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. Although sometimes weak on plot and veering at times into melodramatic action, his books' characterizations, dialogue, descriptions of the various parts of California, attention to detail, deadpan humor, and smooth, easy writing style most always make them a pleasure to read. His "Nameless Detective" is low-key, competent, and serious-minded, part slob and part romantic, despite being beaten down by reality (Pronzini regularly has fun with the character by humbling him with embarrassing or bad-luck situations and tests it by putting him through the ringer of traumatic experiences). Thanks to Amazon, I was able to add "Sentinels" to my collection.

Yet, I have to agree with the overall negative reviews of "Sentinels." The book is weak. It is not as bad as Pronzini's unreadable "Beyond the Grave," a collaboration with his wife ("Double" was a more conventional but better joint effort). There are some bright spots in "Sentinels," like the introduction of Nameless's sharp, sassy assistant, Tamara Corbin. She is well-drawn and well-used here (though she fades into the woodwork in the next book of the series). There are glimpses of narration, legwork, and interactions that are reminiscent of Pronzini's better work. There is also a funny scene in which Nameless is treated to his wife's girlfriend's discourse on "The Holy Sexual Communion," "New Age tantra," a "yoni puppet," and "Once Andrew and I reached mutual harmony in our energy bodies, he illuminated my valley of bliss with his wand of light and we began the slow ascent to pure ecstasy."

But such elements are a mere fringe digression from the book's grim, shallow story of the search for a college girl and her new boyfriend, both missing after their car broke down in small-town far-northern California on their way back to the San Francisco area from a trip. Also beside the point are scattered references to, and a shocking development about, Nameless's ex-friend/partner Eberhardt, which was the springboard to the next novel, Illusions, another recipient of unfavorable reviews here.

"Sentinels" has two main problems. The first is a thin plot. The other reviews are correct that it has few surprises and goes nowhere. The best indication of this is that the book is drawn out to make up for it. Unusual for the Nameless books and unforgivable for a crime story, the book dumbs down the detective to delay revelation of a key fact (here about the boyfriend). Based on blatant clues, including a white supremacy poster in the rural market, which should have put the subject front and center in Nameless's mind, the fact in question is obvious to the reader long before Nameless tumbles to it. As late as page 81, he is saying, "I don't know anything about Rob Brompton or how Allison got involved with him. I'm blundering around in the dark here." By page 90, it is still only sinking in: "Now that I knew, certain things that people had said to me on Tuesday - some subtle, some not so subtle - took on significance." As any reader of the series knows, Nameless is far smarter and more perceptive than that. Beyond its failings as a detective story, I also agree with the other reviews that the book does not bring any particular originality, depth, or insight to its treatment of the serious social issue that it chooses to make the focus of the story.

The second main problem with "Sentinels" is the lack of depth to the characterizations and to the descriptions of place, which Pronzini usually does so well. The point is well made by the other reviews. I would only add some quotes to help capture the book's summary, one-dimensional tone and approach: "Creekside, California, population 112" -- "I didn't care much for this little pimple on the backside of nowhere. In fact, I was beginning to detest it."; "There was no way I would spend this night, or any more nights, in Creekside. I drove back through it in a hurry, out to the highway, and then straight down to Susanville to a Best Western I'd noticed on the outskirts."; "Creekside at five-thirty on a Sunday morning was a ghost town - a place where there were whispers and twitches of life, but a dying place just the same."; "And nobody would know I was back in this miserable little hamlet until I wanted them to know it."; "I had no stomach for making my last call of the day from this ugly little village with its ugly little people."; "I was also fed up with this part of the state; I couldn't talk myself into spending another night in the Corner."
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