shannon_a: (Default)

Events of recent weeks led me to look for some light reading, thus I picked up the next Nameless Detective novel, Jackpot.

It was a pretty good detective story. Nameless sets out to discover why someone committed suicide right after earning a $200,000 jackpot and ends up scouring California for clues. There's enough good detective work in here, with Nameless finding different info from different people and putting it all together, that I was tempted to steal the framework for an RPG adventure. However, Kingmaker, my current campaign, doesn't really call for that sort of thing, so I let it be.

The most interesting element of the book was that Nameless realizes that he's really changed after the ordeal of his last book (where he was taken captive for 3 months and left for dead). He's more paranoid and angrier, but perhaps more notably, he's willing to cut corners and go outside the law, which he never has before. Pronzini correctly makes that change the crux of the book's plotting, and I found it very interesting to read. 

shannon_a: (Default)
I'm currently reading the extremely dense Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson, so I needed something lighter to read simultaneously. As a result I picked up Shackles, by Bill Pronzini, from the library.

It's the next Nameless Detective book in the series, and it's pretty unique book. The first third is about Nameless being held in captivity by a faceless villain. Afterward, he escapes and hunts said villain down using some nice detective work.

Much of this book is really a psychological thriller centering on our protagonist, and it's very well presented. As I said, though, the detective work that comes in the middle really works too. It's all around a strong book, and I'm very happy to see Pronzini continue to move away from those closed-door mysteries that he was (briefly?) obsessed with.

There was also some vary nice use of northern California background in this one, away from Nameless' typical stomping grounds, but still an interesting and iconic part of the state.

I'm more enthusiastic to read more Nameless books after this one.
shannon_a: (Default)
I hadn't read a "Nameless Detective" book for about a year, but I thought Deadfall, the next in the series, would be a good, light book to read on the train up to Sacramento (and I indeed read the first several chapters then and the next several while K. napped that evening).

I was very pleased to see that this was a good old fashioned mystery with lots of characters and lots of clues to what was going. Almost too many in some cases, as I figured out the first murder almost as soon as it was introduced, but fortunately there were other murders and disappearances to keep me going.

This was all a very nice change from Pronzini's locked-room mysteries of other recent books.

As I've said before, Pronzini isn't nearly as good of a writer as his wife, Marcia Muller, but this one did have some interesting character development: particularly in the fact that Nameless is considering retiring at the end of the book. That's always been a problem that Pronzini was going to face, in making his protagonist 20 years older than himself. I'll be interested in seeing where he goes with it ... probably next year.

Edit: But he can't be thinking about it too seriously, as there are another 21 books after this one!
shannon_a: (Default)
If you've read any of my commentary on the later Nameless Detective books, you know they tend to go something like this: "I like the setting and the writing mainly stays out of the way, but why in God's name does he insist on locked-door mysteries?"

So the next Nameless Detective story opens with ... a locked-door mystery, with the twist this time being that its 35 years' old. There's actually another twist, which is that the death was ruled a suicide at the time. I had real, real hope that Pronzini realized he'd overdone things and that this time he was going to offer us up a locked-door mystery tricked up to look like a suicide ... that really was a suicide.

No such luck. The second locked-door mystery (in the present-day) reveals how the first one was committed too. Sigh.

Still interesting reading, and I've actually stopped being majorly annoyed at the format, I'm just hopeful that we might get more of what the series used to be before this obsession.

And I still enjoy reading them for the Bay Area color. This one was was particularly interesting because it visited Berkeley. Pronzini describes Berkeley as an absolute cesspool, like a combination of a ghetto and an open-air drug market. That, I had to grin at, because he was writing in 1985, just four years before I moved here. I guarantee you his description was largely inaccurate unless there was an urban renewal of epic scale in those scant years in-between.

Sadly, at the time of the writing of this book, Pronzini was entering his early 40s, and think that the conservative curmudgeonly attitude that sometimes comes with middle age is clearly developing. "If kids these days weren't ruining things ... <hem!> <hem!>" I shouldn't be surprised given the curmudgeonly attitude of Pronzini's Nameless protagonist, who is his altar ego, but 20 (now 10) years older.
shannon_a: (Default)
This was the missing Nameless Detective book which I failed to get from the local library before my trip to Hawaii. I ordered a copy of it from Mountain View, and had it waiting upon my return.

This book showed me both what I like and what I don't like about the Nameless Detective.

On the one hand, it's pretty good procedural, with the protagonist slowly moving through an investigation, finding out things as he does. On the other hand, there's one murder by ingenious death trap, hearkening back to the writer's flirtation with Holmesian deduction.

And this is really typical for Nameless: "Things began to stir inside my head. Then they began to run around, tumbling together like little rocks in a landslide. Things I should have added up before. Things that got me a little excited because maybe, just maybe, they were some of the answers I had been looking for."

(At which point Nameless typically stumbles off after the killer(s), get caught, gets almost killed, escapes, then explains what he figured out--which was indeed what happened in this volume.)

I'm now back in sync with Nameless, having read the first 14 volumes (through Double), and with Sharon McCone, having read the first 7 volumes (though There's Nothing to Be Afraid Of). And after a few mysteries in a row, I'm back to reading fantasy ...
shannon_a: (Default)
I haven't read many books while in Hawaii. In fact, I just finished the book that I started on the airplane, Double, which is both the 14th Nameless Detective book and the 6th Sharon McCone book (or somewhere thereabouts, as I haven't bothered to look up the numbers).

No regrets on the lack of book reading, though, as I've got to spend lots of time in the ocean and spent lots of time with family.

Though I'd intended to hold out and read Double in its proper place, I actually skipped the penultimate Nameless Detective book, because my library lost its copy of it (a frequent problem at the Berkeley Public Library). Ah well, I'll have a copy of that missing book, Night Spectres or something similar, waiting for me via a LINK+ loan when I return.

Double is a very fun book because it's a crossover between Pronzini's Nameless Detective and Muller's Sharon McCone. There's actually a detective convention, and so a few other named folks make cameos as well. I recognized Kinsey Millhone, who is from the alphabet series of detective of books. In any case, the crossover is fun, and you wish these two would get together again (though I don't think they do, despite the fact that the two authors were a married couple who may well still be together today).

The use of the two detectives is quite well done. Chapters alternate between their two points of view, and they're constantly following different threads of the same case, neither one ever seeing the whole picture (although the reader does). I was impressed by how adroitly the authors carried this off.

I also enjoyed seeing the contrast between the two characters. I've noted before how Nameless follows the law much more closely than any other detective I've read about, and that was pointedly mentioned here, as both Sharon and Nameless reflect that she does things that he wouldn't.

The structure of the book itself felt much more like Proznini than Muller, as it involved multiple cases all tightly intertwined so that they looked like the same mystery. It's a structure that he's used in the past.

Overall, a fun book, and one that kept my attention enough to be worthy of being an airplane book. And now I finally get to read Sharon McCone books again, after I'd stopped for the last year or so, while I caught my Nameless Detective up to the same chronological point (1984) so that I could read this volume.
shannon_a: (Default)
I finished another couple of Nameless Detective novels this weekend, Bindlestiff and Quicksilver. We're into the early '80s now, and it's interesting to see how Pronzini's view of San Francisco culture is slowly changing. Before, things had been pretty homogeneous, but now we've had one story centered around Chinatown (Dragonfire) and one centered around Japantown (Quicksilver).

These books continue the move back away from the stupid locked room mysteries that Pronzini was obsessed with for the course of a couple of books, which is all for the series' better.

I'm a little less pleased by Nameless' changing interaction with the police--though it's by no means a deal-breaker like the locked-room obsession was. I wrote earlier that I really liked how Nameless interacted with the police department: keeping them informed of things when he should and not sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.

In the last several books, that's totally evaporated. He increasingly dives into situations that he knows he shouldn't be involved in, and just pays faint lip service to his old ideals, noting that he shouldn't be doing what he's doing (as he does). Now, mind you, this is how many fictional detectives operate, such as Spenser, who I quite enjoy. It was just nice to see Nameless act differently.

In any case, having read a total of three Nameless books over the last week, I'm liable to put them aside for a while.
shannon_a: (Default)
Seems like I'm finishing tons of books lately; of course the other two that I completed recently had each taken me weeks to finish (as opposed to this one which took a pretty typical three days).

Dragonfire is the ninth Nameless Detective book, and I'm quite happy to see that a series that I was about to give up on (though it feels weird to talk about giving up on a series based on books written 25 years ago, when I was in Jr. High) has turned a corner. Or, at least, it had a good book.

The strength of Nameless Detective is the characters, and this has that in spades, with ND going through a major philosophical breakdown and also having great interactions with his (current) girlfriend and his best friend.

The weakness of Nameless Detective over the last couple of books has been Pronzini's sudden obsessions with puzzles and locked-door mysteries. There aren't any here. Just a good old-fashioned shooting and the places that it leads (through real detective work, not just thinking).

I've got the next two ND books sitting around to read, possibly over the course of this upcoming long weekend.
shannon_a: (Default)
I've finished reading Case File, a set of short stories about the Nameless Detective by Bill Pronzini. They were written over a period of 10+ years, so they cover the entirety of Nameless' career to that date, from before his first novel to just before Scattershot (the last one I've read).

To start with, I don't think the short story is as good of a format for mystery as the short novel. And, yes, I've read Holmes too. There just isn't time for much anything but mystery-solution, especially in the twenty or so pages that most of these stories featured.

I've complained in other posts about Nameless turning into a Holmesian locked-door-mystery solver, and that's obvious here too.

In an author's note on "Private Eye Blues", a story situated at the midpoint of this collection, Pronzini talks about how he'd originally planned to kill off Nameless, and when he didn't, he began to change things up in the stories instead. As he says, "And you'll also find that the types of cases he becomes involved in are somewhat different, too; that they're a bit more, um, puzzling than his straightforward investigations during the prelesion period."

To which I say, sigh. Whether you're Laurell K. Hamilton or Bill Pronzini, you shouldn't notably change the type of story you're telling midway through a series. It just annoys your early adopters. Sure enough Case File immediately follows that author's note with two locked-room murders. There's also a locked-room theft and a disappearance on a small island later in the book.

And I done with Pronzini? Not quite yet. He gets at least one more try, with Dragonfire, primarily because that was published before Case File and thus would be a clean breaking point. But if Prozini hasn't done away with his stupid locked rooms by then, I'm probably done with him.

In the meantime, I've ordered a new pulp book, Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas (not his real name). The author was on NPR recently, and his series (just two books long to date) sounds interesting, if dark ... but I really liked the other modern noir series I've read recently, which was the Atticus Kodiak series by Greg Rucka.
shannon_a: (Default)
A few days ago I finished Scattershot, which is the 8th Nameless Detective book by Bill Pronzini.

I continue to like the characterization and the continuing plots. This book was also a kind of nice change of pace, because rather than just having one central mystery, it instead interweaved three shorter mysteries (which I expect where previously short stories).

However, there's something that's really bugged me about both this book and the previous entrant in the series, Hoodwink. Pronzini has become suddenly obsessed with locked room mysteries (and though I say "suddenly", keep in mind that I'm talking about books that he wrote twenty-five years ago).

In fact, the five mysteries in these last two books, which included three murders, one disappearance, and one theft are all locked room mysteries, every single one of them. And the Nameless Detective, who's always been an analytical detective who suddenly sees how all the clues fit together, has suddenly become Sherlock Holmes or something. He sees the locked room mystery, considers it for a few moments, then offers the sudden explanation that no one else figured out.

If this goes on, I'll be done with this series pretty quickly. I hope it was something he got out of his system in these two books.
shannon_a: (Default)
I just finished Twospot, the fifth Nameless Detective book by Bill Pronzini. It was a fun book because it was a crossover with Colin Wilson's Frank Hastings novels. I hadn't been aware of Wilcox's books before, but they're yet another mystery series set in San Francisco, but whereas Pronzini writes detective, Wilcox writes police procedural.

Though the book fit together fine as a whole, the differences in style were notable. Pronzini writes a much more casual book, and one much more focused on characters and their internal lives, while Wilcox is extremely careful with his forensic details and his case work. They both write pretty authentic feeling novels, unlike a lot of the pulp.

Early this year, I was looking for some mysteries set in San Francisco. I'm now glad to have a whole set of them, between Muller, Pronzini, and Wilcox. (And I've just found a listing of California mysteries by happenstance).

I've got one more Nameless Detective novel out from the library, Labyrinth. I expect to read that soon, which will get me 6 books into the Nameless Detective series.

Next, I'd like to find something more modern, since the three SF series I've got are likely to all remain stuck in the 1970s and 1980s (though maybe not; some authors are more casual about time passage than others).
shannon_a: (Default)
Yesterday I finished Blowback, by Bill Pronzini, the fourth Nameless Detective novel (and with a publication date of 1977, probably the first one written in my lifetime).

One of the things I like about detective novels is that they're often quite short. Thus, I can almost always read a single novel within a weekend. I think I picked this up on Saturday night and finished it up Sunday night. Given the intricate relationships and mysteries implicit in the genre, it's nice to have it all together, thus giving you an opportunity to figure things out.

And that's definitely one of the things that I like about the Nameless Detective. Though detective novels always seem to have more stuff come out of left field than I'd like, Pronzini seems to play more fair than most. In this case, even though I hadn't identified the killer (and indeed, think that the protagonist didn't have enough info to identify the killer) I did successfully realize most of the other stuff that was going on.

There's one other aspect that's interesting about the Nameless Detective: he's not a larger-than-life pulp hero. In fact, the author makes a constant point about this, since the protagonist collects pulp stories and thus can compare himself to those heroes. Unlike them, he tends to work with the police (a true rarity in detective novels) and generally stay on the right side of things. It's a nice change of pace and leaves me interested in what's going to happen when the Nameless Detective and Sharon McCone team up, since she likes to play it more fast and loose.

Anyways, that's the 4th ND book under my belt.

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