Triptych Image: "Eavesdropper"
Image Credit: Amalia Pica
2013 MARKS THE 45th ANNIVERSARY of one of crime fiction’s most enduring and hardest working PIs: Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective. Making his first appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1968’s “It’s a Lousy World,” Nameless has appeared in 36 novels and more than 40 short stories. At the moment, his is the longest running PI series currently in print. By this point, he’s out performed and outlived the Continental Op, Spade, Marlowe, Archer, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones, and most of his snoopy brethren. Nameless now stands with Holmes, Poirot, Nero Wolfe, and Spenser as one of the longest surviving literary private eyes of all time, and Pronzini deservedly towers tall alongside their titanic scribes. Pronzini was instrumental in modernizing the private eye genre, moving away from overly stylized syntax and hardboiled super heroes towards a more realistic and humanistic presentation in which we can recognize our own world and ourselves. Whether they know it or not (and hopefully they do), all contemporary PI writers and readers owe a great debt to Pronzini. Scholar, collector, editor, anthologist, and writer, he is, without a doubt, among the most significant minds in the mystery field of the past century.
Over the years, Pronzini has kept the name of his first-person narrator closely guarded, revealing it only once in the entire run of the series thus far (or so rumor has it, I’m still playing catch-up and haven’t come across it yet). Despite his anonymity, however, Nameless is among the most recognizably human of private eyes. He is an archetype fueled by heart rather than hype. He carries a gun not out of bloodlust (like Mike Hammer), but for protection from a world he knows is twisted, violent, and remorseless. He’s not hard drinking, fast loving, or quick with the quip. A San Francisco resident, devoted collector of pulp magazines and crime fiction scholar (like Pronzini, himself), Nameless is aware of his profession’s literary tradition, and he shows affection for his predecessors without ever seeming affected or self-conscious. He’s less extraordinary than he is ordinary; more like a neighbor we’re likely to sit at a counter with at the diner than someone who would save the world from certain doom. Nameless is a professional, he does his job, and he cares about it, but he’s mortal, and — more importantly — he mourns. “It’s a hell of a world we live in,” he says in Kinsmen, “A hell of a world.”
Cemetery Dance has contributed two new editions to Pronzini’s ever-lengthening bibliography, the novellas Kinsmen and Femme. Kinsmen, originally published in Criminal Intent magazine in 1993, finds Nameless investigating the disappearance of two college students last seen at a backwoods motel in upstate California. When he learns the couple was interracial, Nameless begins to wonder if there’s more behind the townsfolk’s tight lips than just innocent resentment of his prying eyes. Pronzini doesn’t indulge in the usual PI dramatics; like Ed Gorman, the great humanist amongst all PI writers, Pronzin...read more