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By now, Bill Pronzini is some 36 or so books into the Nameless Detective series and has conducted all kinds of experiments with the genre. But in this second entry, from 1973, he was still boiling the private eye novel down to its hard essence. Just as the failure to even bother giving his gumshoe a moniker reflected something of the degree to which the great detectives tended to submerge their own personalities into their cases, so too does this book's extended meditation on loneliness teach the reader about the sources Mr. Pronzini was drawing upon. and just in case the homage to his predecessor's wasn't obvious enough, Nameless is a dedicated collector of the old pulp magazines where the form was born and bred.

The case here, though handled adroitly enough, is more or less just a pretext for the author to develop his ideas. A desperate woman hires Nameless to track down her fiance, a soldier who disappeared from the Presidio immediately upon his return from duty in Germany. His Army buddies confirm that he was looking forward to the marriage, untroubled otherwise, and had no reason to go into hiding. One of the fellow soldiers has a sister who captures Nameless's attention and they begin a tentative romance, having both been hurt in recent relationships.
I sipped some beer, and Cheryl was on my mind, and the missing Roy Sands--and Erika too, as she always seemed to be when I was conscious of my pulp magazines. Every time I looked at them, I could hear the words Erika had said to me in this very room some two and a half months ago, harsh and stinging words: "You want to know the real reason you quit the police force to open up that agency of yours, the real deep-down reason? I'll tell you: it's an obsession to just like those pulp-magazine detectives and you never would have been satisfied until you tried it. Well, now you've tried it, for ten years you've tried it, and you just don't want to let go, you can't let go. You're living in an era that doesn't exist and never did, in an era that's twenty-five-years dead. You're a kid dreaming about being a hero, and yet you haven't got the guts or the flair to go out and be one; you're too honest and too sensitive and too ethical, too affected by real corruption and real human misery to be the kind of lone wolf private eye you'd like to be. You're no damned hero, and it hurts you that you're not, and that's why you won't let go of it. And the whole while you're eating and sleeping and living yesteryear's dream world, to salve your wounded pride you're deluding yourself that you're an anachronism in a real-life world that couldn't care less one way or the other. You're nothing but a little boy, and I'm damned if I'll have a little boy in my bed every night of the year..."

The thing of it was, the thing I could never make her understand, was that even if she was right, it did not matter--it was not important. How I became what I am, or why, is irrelevant to the simple fact that I am what I am. I could not change, for her or for anyone. But that had not been enough for Erika, and it had ended between us for primarily that reason.

And now, maybe, after two and a half months, there was Cheryl.
But the twists and turns of the case will, once again, force the detective to face the bitter realities of what he is, what he chooses to be, and how that must affect his personal life.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

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See also:

Private Eyes
Bill Pronzini Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Bill Pronzini
    -WIKIPEDIA: Nameless Detective
    -Bill Pronzini (Thrilling Detective)
    -Nameless Detective (Thrilling Detective)
    -Bill Pronzini (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -PROFILE: Partners in Crime: Married writers share the sweet mystery of life (David Templeton, 5/16/96, MetroActive)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Bill Pronzini August, 2002 (Mystery One)
    -REVIEW: of Hoodwink by Bill Pronzini (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Masques by Bill Pronzini (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Scattershot by Bill Pronzini (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Son of Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Blue Lonesome by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sentinels by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Illusions by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Nothing but the Night by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Crazybone by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Bleeders by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Nightcrawlers by Bill Pronzini (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Schemers by Bill Pronzini (Tom Callahan, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Mourners by Bill Pronzini (Kevin Burton Smith, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of A Wasteland of Strangers by Bill Pronzini (Jeri Wright, Mystery Reader)

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