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Book Review: Schemers by Bill Pronzini

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I love the new covers of the “Nameless” Detective novels by Bill Pronzini. They’re mocked up to look like file folders and make it simple to recognize these books at a glance.

I’ve been reading this series since The Snatch came out in the 1970s. In that time, Nameless has gone through a lot of changes. We’ve even learned his first name: Bill. But I’ll always think of him as Nameless.

I’d read in the beginning that the author wanted to strip down the private detective motif down so much that the character had no name and the only way he was recognized was through his work. In the beginning, I thought that was pretty cool. Still do. But I like the way Nameless has gone from being a single act to an ensemble group and now has a family life.

Lately, Pronzini has divided up the legwork in Nameless’s cases. He’s been joined by Tamara Corbin, the agency’s computer guru, and Jake Runyon, an ex-Seattle cop who’s dealing with personal trauma from losing his wife to cancer. When Tamara first started edging into the books as a viewpoint character, I wasn’t too sure about how I liked the idea. Then I got used to it and now I see it as a plus in the series.

The opening prologue of the book instantly guarantees the reader’s attention. I couldn’t think of a more brutal thing to kick off an attack on a family, but it’s there. Nameless takes the case on and hands it over to Runyon. All of them are aware that a killer is waiting out in the shadows, one that isn’t going to hesitate to kill when he’s ready.

The second mystery is an old school locked room. I loved those kinds of stories when I was a kid. The scenario gets bumped up and shot full of steroids when the story involves a collector of Golden Age mysteries. I loved all the name-dropping that went on during the conversations. I couldn’t help ticking off the books and authors I’d read. Nameless is an avid collector of pulp magazines, a medium I also love.

As always, Pronzini keeps his mysteries moving, dodging back and forth between cases as well as through the investigations and the private lives of his investigators.

I’d figured out most of the locked room mystery by the time I reached the final few pages, but it was gratifying to see that I was right about most of it. There were still a few twists I hadn’t caught. The story with Runyon and the Hendersons was more suspenseful, more hardboiled, but it kept me flipping pages in anticipation. Overall, this was a solid entry into this long-lived series.

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