One of my favorite subgenres, and probably the one I read the least since I started this blog, is that of the private eye. And one of the top practitioners of the form is Bill Pronzini. His Nameless Detective series has been going since the 70s, with new entries still being added.
The most recent is the novella Femme, published this past fall by Cemetery Dance along with a reprint of another Nameless novella, Kinsmen. They were separate volumes, but Cemetery Dance had a preorder special. I snatched them both up. (The trade editions, but even without the signatures, they were a good buy and look great on the shelf.)
Both feature top notch covers by Glen Orbik; more on that shortly.
This particular tale is told from two perspectives, that of Nameless along with his associate Jake Runyon. The case opens when Nameless is called in by a bail bondsman to look for a young man, Kenneth Beckett, who’s skipped out ten days before he goes to trial. His older sister Cory is very concerned about him and wants to see him home safely before anyone finds out he’s gone, especially his straight-arrow attorney and most especially the judge.
Cory Beckett is young, smart, and exudes sexuality like most people exhale carbon dioxide. She’s also lying through her teeth about what’s really going on. I’m not spoiling any plot developments by telling you that. The sexy client who’s lying is a well established trope in detective fiction. In the hands of a master like Pronzini, you can see why that trope is still around and why it will never get old. The woman in this story pure evil, and she corrupts everyone she comes in contact with for an extended period of time.
Nameless and Runyon know they’re being played even before Runyon finds Kenneth, but there’s little they can do about it, ethically or legally. At least not until they get pulled back into the case. Before the case is over, they’ll have faced one of the deadliest criminals they’ve ever encountered.
This one didn’t disappoint. Since this is a novella, it can be read in just a couple of hours on a quiet evening, which is how I read it. Also, since it’s a novellla, I’ll not discuss the plot details any further.
One of the enjoyable things about long running detective series is watching the character grow and change throughout the course of the series. I wish I could say I’ve read all the Nameless stories, but I’ve not even come close. Some of the titles are rather scarce. (I know I could probably find all of them online fairly quickly, but sometimes the hunt is half the fun.) I have, however, read enough to be able to see how Nameless has grown and matured along with Pronzini’s skill as a writer. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll want to have this one. If you’re not, the price tag might be a bit steep for an introduction. If you do decide to make Nameless’s acquaintance, I doubt you’ll regret it. (And, yes, by now he has a name. You’ll have to read the books to find out what it is.)
One last thing about the cover. Glen Orbik is one of the best artists working in the pulp and noir field. Check out the gallery on his web site if you don’t believe me. Or even if you do. He’s done a number of covers for Hard Case Crime. When I saw the cover of Femme, it tripped a switch in my brain.
Take a gander at the cover on the right. Lady look familiar? Same face, same earrings, same gun. I wonder if the cover for Femme was originally done for Money Shot. The scene fits the story better in the latter than in the former. Not that I’m complaining. They’re both very well done and deserve to be seen somewhere. (I also suspect Orbik used the same model and gun for the cover of Songs of Innocence. Not sure about the earrings.)