The Nameless Detectiveseries has been active since 1971 and it
is still strong—in sales and quality alike. The protagonist—Nameless,
who isn’t as nameless as he once was—has aged and matured in almost real
time. He was young and full of fight throughout his appearances in the
1970s and 80s, but with age he has mellowed with creaky bones, aching
muscles, a wife and an adopted daughter.
The thirty-second title, published by Forge in 2005, is Nightcrawlers
and while it, and all of the recent titles, is different from the early
Nameless stories it is still pretty damn terrific. In many ways the
latest releases are better—there is more nuance, the execution is
tighter and Nameless—or Bill—has developed into something more than he
was. He is a living, breathing, believable character that is not only
sympathetic to the reader, but downright likable.
Nightcrawlers is a personal journey for Nameless. There are three
storylines that run parallel, and not one of them ever crosses
another—there are no hokey connections or ridiculous coincidences, but
rather there are three stories (mysteries) compressed with superb
execution and sharp prose into one very enjoyable novel.
Nameless’ detective office is a three-person operation now. Nameless has
semi-retired, Tamara Corbin is a full partner and Jake Runyon is the
main operative. The location of the office has moved to—it is now just
south of Market instead of the old O’Farrell Street location.
Business is slow; Tamara is taking care of what seems to be a small
skip-trace on a deadbeat dad, Jake is pursuing a non-paying case in an
attempt to stop a string of brutal beatings in the Castro and Nameless
is doing a personal favor for a dying pulp writer—Russell Dancer who
appeared in at least three earlier Nameless novels, Undercurrent, Hoodwink and Bones and is based on the pulp writer J. M. (Jay) Flynn.
The skip-trace turns out to be more than it first appeared and not
because of the case itself, but rather something Tamara stumbles across
as she is working it. Unfortunately Tamara never gets the opportunity to
tell either Nameless or Runyon her suspicions before she disappears,
which acts as the catalyst for the climax of the novel.
Nightcrawlers is, simply put, damn entertaining. It is written in
both first and third person—Nameless acts as his own narrator and the
chapters in the perspective of Tamara and Jake are in third person. It
works very well. It broadens the scope of the story without diminishing
its personality. The perspective changes from chapter to chapter are
easily detected (beyond the note at the top of each chapter) by subtle
shifts in style and vocabulary. Tamara has the easy flow of the street,
Jake is hardboiled and Nameless is just Nameless.
Tamara: “Now that she was here , out on a field job, she began to feel a little stoked.”
Jake: “The man himself was in his late thirties, short, dark, and
cynical. The cynicism showed in his eyes, the set of his mouth, his
Nameless: “Russ Dancer, dying. Cirrhosis and emphysema. Refused to
quit drinking or smoking, refused hospitalization or treatment beyond
painkillers and an oxygen bottle that he carried around with him.”
The prose has the deceptive feel and flow of simplicity, but, in its
stark hardboiled style, it is vividly saturated with the essence of the
characters and their city: San Francisco. The setting is developed well
and described in such a fashion that it makes the reader feel like she
is in San Francisco moving between Market and Castro and all points
between. The story builds upon itself with each page and chapter
bringing with it a dry and edgy suspense.
Nightcrawlers is the real thing and a terrific entry in the
series. Find a copy, read it, and pass it on because more people should
be exposed to both Bill Pronzini and his other “Bill,” known as
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