Bill Pronzini,
(Cemetery Dance, 2012)

Bill Pronzini,
(1993; Cemetery Dance, 2012)

It seems as though Bill Pronzini has been publishing books for as long as there have been publishers. Best known for nearly 40 hard-boiled Nameless Detective books, which tell the adventures of a man who calls himself the last of the old-time private eyes, Pronzini is also a prolific writer of mainstream suspense novels and westerns and is an active anthologist with more than 100 collections to his credit. Give him an afternoon off and he'll turn out a new book.

The amazing thing is that with all of this production, he has maintained a very high level of quality. His books are not only legion, they also are generally very good.

Kinsmen and Femme are two short novels -- one new, one a reprint. Both are good examples of Pronzini working at a high level of skill and invention.

In Kinsmen, first issued in 1993, the nameless detective is hired to find a young college student who has disappeared on her way home from school. The search takes him from his home base of San Francisco to the small mountain towns of rural Northern California, where he finds very quickly that he is not welcome. Creekside is a town with a secret, and Nameless believes the secret is tied up with the disappearance of his client's daughter. He discovers that she was passing through town with her boyfriend when her car broke down. They checked into a motel and were never seen again. He also learns the boyfriend was African-American and there is an active right-wing militia operating in the area. By the time he solves the case, Nameless finds things have not gone in the direction he expected them to.

Kinsmen is a study of hate and the evil that we are capable of. So is Femme, but in Femme, the hatred is individualized, rather than coming from a group. In it, Nameless comes up against the title character, a femme fatale, a woman who does evil simply and primarily because she is evil. She is also his client; she hires him to find her missing brother, who has run off after being accused of stealing a valuable necklace from his boss's wife. Finding him is easy, but finding him only complicates the case. As the complications build, Nameless and his associate, Jake Runyon, follow a trail of corpses straight into a vision of hatred and evil presented in a final image that will linger in your mind a long time.

These are good, solid private-eye novels, certain to please Pronzini's many fans and just as certain to win him some new ones.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 October 2012

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