I’ve read quite a few of Bill Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective” novels over the years, and I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t paid full price for any of ‘em (just another poverty-struck free-lancer, lookin’ to do his reading on the cheap). The sturdy p.i. series has seen several publishers, with many of its entries ultimately showing up on the remainder tables in the end. Recently bought a copy of 2005’s Nightcrawlers at a dollar store, for instance, and happily snatched it up. Like most of Pronzini’s Nameless books, it’s a tightly packed piece of detective fiction.
If there’s any downside for fans of the long-running series, it’s that the ostensible lead “Bill” doesn’t have all that much to do in this outing. When the series debuted, our hero was a lone wolf, but as he’s grown older and more settled, his agency has expanded and Bill is still getting used to the new, bigger offices. In Nightcrawlers, the prime focus is split between two of his investigators, ex-cop Jake Runyon and scrappy new partner Tamara Corbin. The first is investigating a duo of gay bashers at the request of his estranged son; the second inadvertently draws the attention of a psychotic who’s been kidnapping little girls.
Our title hero has his own small “case,” courtesy of a dying pulp fiction writer, but this proves more a distraction than anything. Of greater interest are hard-nosed Runyon’s investigations into San Francisco gay club life and Tamara’s capture by the delusional Robert Lemoyne, which reads like a particularly taut episode of Criminal Minds. Semi-retired Nameless gets to be part of the wrap-up on the Lemoyne case, though not Jake’s investigation. Our thoughtful hero is given the last word on both, of course, which is as it should be.
Where earlier Nameless novels were told from the PoV of its first-person narrator, in later works like Nightcrawlers, Pronzini shifts each chapter from the perspective of his detective and his villains. While I can understand the writer’s desire to try and mix things up a little, I still find myself preferring the more straightforward focus of the earlier books. Reading this reminded me of an earlier team-up collaboration between Pronzini and his writer wife Marcia Muller (Double), which, while engaging, did not display either writer at their best. Pronzini sneaks a cameo from one of the secondaries in Muller’s Sharon McCone series, though, which also served to remind me that I hadn’t read one of her books lately. A smart piece of product placement, Bill.