Bill Pronzini’s novel, Fever, features his Nameless Detective and partners working on another pair of crimes. This has been Pronzini’s format for the series for a while now, and it’s really effective. The author concentrates more on telling interesting mysteries against the fabric of real life, and creating organic detective stories that grow from book to book.
This one starts out interestingly, with Nameless and his partner Tamara picking up the trail of Janice Krochek, a wife gone missing. Jake Runyon, their field operative, has tracked the woman down. I liked the way Pronzini sets up the encounter and explains the laws of tracking down adults. A private eye can’t just bag and tag an adult who's willingly gone missing. Adults have the right to disappear and not come home any time they want to.
Janice Krochek’s addiction to gambling shows up on page one and maintains the addiction theme of the novel throughout. Normally in a Nameless novel there’s a client or someone Nameless meets who deserves rooting on. In Fever, though, Nameless doesn’t care much for Janice Krochek or her husband Mitch. However, both of these characters – slaves to their own addictions – are very true to life. Pronzini writes the characters lean and mean, pared to the bone, but the story echoes and provides food for thought.
As soon as Nameless believes he’s out of the Janice tracking business, she shows back up at his agency after someone has beaten her up. She claims that her life is in danger. Nameless takes her back to her husband, but it’s clear that he’s not as happy about having her back as he’d thought he would be. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this ending, but thankfully Pronzini doesn’t let the story end there, because it suddenly takes on more dangerous and mysterious overtones.
In the meantime, Jake Runyon gets involved with a pro bono case of his own that Tamara has undertaken for the agency. Brian Youngblood’s life has suddenly turned inside out and his mother wants to know why. Jake’s investigation put him into the path of Bryn Darby, a woman who becomes part of the Nameless canon in later books. I had read about Bryn in other books, and now I’m glad I got to find out how they first met and what drew them together. Jake is one of those interesting, wounded characters who are fun to follow.
The Krochek case turns violent when Mitch calls Nameless in and shows him all the blood smeared throughout his house. I was pretty certain that Mitch had murdered his wife at that point, but Nameless takes the case on again to find out what happened. I knew I was in for a rollercoaster ride and looked forward to it.
Pronzini has been writing this private detective series for 40 years and I’ve been reading them almost as long. Although I’ve figured out most of the author’s moves during that time, he can still fool me and throw a curveball that catches me looking. The twist at the end of Fever is a great one.