Written by Bill Pronzini — Of all the long-running private eye series out there, Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series must be one of the longest ones still going. It spans more than 30 years and 36 novels. I’ve read a couple of those novels and the short story collection Scenarios but never really got to grips with the series. So, there’s always been this nagging feeling that I’ve been missing out. After all, 69-year-old Pronzini has won an Edgar Award and several Shamuses, and is considered to be crime fiction royalty.
Late last year, Cemetery Dance Publications unveiled the new novella, Femme, which was published alongside a reprint of Kinsmen, originally released in 1993. They were the perfect opportunity for me to reacquaint myself with the pulp magazine-collecting, San Francisco-based private eye. The fantastic illustrated pulp-style covers by Glen Orbik of Hard Case Crime fame were a welcome cherry on the top.
Femme is Pronzini’s femme fatale story. The mystery here isn’t who the bad gal is – it’s made very clear right from the start that role belongs to the beautiful Cory Beckett. Rather, it’s just how bad is she, and how many lives will she destroy before she’s done? She hires Nameless to find her brother, Kenneth, out on bail and awaiting trial for the theft of jewellery that belonged to his rich boss’ wife. It turns out Cory is having an affair with said rich boss. The way Cory tells it, her brother is a junkie with mental health problems. When Nameless and his associate Jake Runyon catch up with him they get a different picture. It seems that Cory traps rich men with sex and then cleans up in the divorce. Nameless has to sift the truth from the lies, and do it before anybody dies.
Meanwhile, Kinsmen sees Nameless move out of his comfort zone in urban San Francisco. He’s been hired by a mother to find her student daughter who has disappeared driving home from college. His search takes him to Creekside county in the northeastern corner of California – a secluded rural community a million miles from the big city. Nameless is met by a wall of silence and hostility, and those few who are sympathetic are too scared to talk. A far right cult cum militia called the Kinsmen has got the locals scared – those who haven’t already joined it, that is. When Nameless finds out the girl was travelling with her black boyfriend, things look bleak indeed.
I enjoyed both these books, but Kinsmen in particular. There is no fancy prose here, but the way the author builds the tension with not a wasted or unnecessary word is masterful. Both books build towards shocking climaxes, and whilst I can’t really fault either, Kinsmen is the slightly better read. This is peerless PI fiction, and these books have made me go out and order the latest Nameless novel, Hellbox. Both the Kinsmen reprint and Femme have done so well that if you want copies, you’d better move fast. They are selling out in America and, on Amazon UK, can only be ordered as imports.
Cemetery Dance Publications
£8.70 (Femme) / £7.31 (Kinsmen)
CFL Rating: 4 Stars (Femme) / 5 Stars (Kinsmen)