THE VANISHED (1973) by Bill Pronzini

pronzini_vanished_rhhbBill 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_vanished_pbPronzini 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.

Rob Kitchin reviewed this one over at The View from the Blue House. while Kerrie gave it a brief overview at her Mysteries in Paradise. For my page devoted to the “Nameless” series, click here.

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):


***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 2016 Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt, Bill Pronzini, Friday's Forgotten Book, Germany, Private Eye, San Francisco. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to THE VANISHED (1973) by Bill Pronzini

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    The Nameless series really is consistently so good, I think, Sergio. In my humble opinion, it gets better as it goes on, like most series do. But it’s really good, even at this early stage. Glad you enjoyed this one.

  2. Colin says:

    Still haven’t got any further than short stories with Pronzini but you make these full length books sound very attractive – I will have to indulge soon.

  3. Another reminder of an author I must spend more time with. I’ve read a couple – must read more. Thanks.

  4. The early Nameless novels evolved from book to book as Bill Pronzini mastered his craft. THE VANISHED entertained me with a solid story and plenty of suspense. My favorite Nameless books appeared in the 1980s.

  5. Todd Mason says:

    And he was writing and publishing for almost a decade by the time of THE VANISHING. “Nameless”‘s name is eventually mentioned, as Matt Paust will be happy to note for you…he’s “Bill”…(pretty much the way Sharon McCone is “Marcia Muller” spelled sideways and slightly edited).

  6. I agree with George’s comment that the early books evolved quite a bit. I thought the first two showed a lot of Ross Macdonald influence, but by Undercurrent he’d found his voice.

  7. I’ve never read any of Pronzini’s books or Marcia Muller’s for that matter. No real reason, just never found the time or probably more importantly, never saw the books at the library. I’d always meant to give one or two a try. As always, enjoyed your review, Sergio.

  8. Sergio, I have not read Bill Pronzini yet but his Nameless stories, though entertaining and full of suspense as George notes, are narrated in a simple and effective style and that’s one reason why they’re so appealing.

  9. Bill Pronzini says:

    Very nice review, Sergio. Your comment on Nameless as an everyman trying to make sense of the world around him his particularly pleasing. You might be interested to know that Roy’s disappearance was inspired by a real-life incident involving my mother, one that, unlike Roy’s, was never solved.

    Much appreciate your page devoted to Nameless and all the nice words on the series there, too. Molto grazie!

    • Dear Bill, thanks for filling in some of the blanks, I had no idea this was so personal. And thanks so much for stopping by – this is my last review of the year, so this is a great way to go out. Hope you and yours have a great Christmas and New Year. All the best, Sergio

  10. Matt Paust says:

    Good review, Sergio. This one is going on my list.

  11. Pingback: 2016 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt | Tipping My Fedora

  12. tracybham says:

    This review makes me wish I had not already read the early books in the series, Sergio. I could go back and reread them but I still have about 15 more in the series to read. I wish I could read as fast as I did back then. Great review.

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