Bill Pronzini’s “Nameless” private eye first appeared in short stories from the late 1960s, some of which he later expanded into novels from the following decade, beginning with The Snatch (which I previously reviewed here). Our San Francisco private eye now returns for his second full-length case, investigating the disappearance of a man who just got out of the army with seemingly everything to live for.
I offer this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, which today celebrates the work of Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“Fog drifted like tattered gossamer through the darkened streets of Pacific Heights”
“Nameless” (he does have a name but in the books we just never see it written down or hear it spoken) starts this novel off in a really bad way: he just spent New Year’s on his own after his long-term girlfriend Erika left him, his health is poor and is completely disillusioned with the world – but then a case walks in. Elaine is looking for Roy, her fiancé. He just retired from the army after twenty years, their wedding plans are all in place, but after returning from his last posting overseas, no one seems to have heard from him, other than a few telegrams to settle some modest poker debts with his buddies, Hendryx, Rosmond and Gilmartin. Ultimately a slender clue leads Nameless back to Ray’s last posting, a small town in Germany, to discover a tragic death that just may be connected to the disappearance. But who stole a portrait of Roy from Nameless’ apartment and who warned him off going to Germany with an anonymous call?
She said, “You must be a very lonely man.”
Pronzini does an expert job of providing us with a multi-faceted view of Roy, even though for most of the story we never actually meet him. The main point of view is that of his army buddies, old-fashioned alpha males who pretty much just think about ‘broads and booze’ though they are getting a little old for it now. Roy was a bit like that, but according to everyone was now seriously devoted to Elaine. The PI looks but can’t seem to find anyone who seriously disliked Roy, in fact, except for an old grudge from years before, and all seem eager to help in the investigation. One of them even has a sister, Cheryl, who is immediately drawn to the sad PI and the two start dating. But what happened to Roy? And was he involved with the death of a young artist back in Germany?
Ultimately through the dogged perseverance of our hero, we discover that Roy had a nasty secret, that he wasn’t the mild-mannered saint that Elaine took him for, and that he probably won’t make it back into her life as she hoped. This is a sad tale with a solid and basically linear plot that is very well told, though it is our narrator who keeps or interest, Nameless is of course an everyman trying to make sense of the world around him as honestly and as with as much love and caring as he can – hard not to root for a decent man like that.
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘Just one person’ category from my hardback edition from Random House (right at the top of the review):