Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fever by Bill Pronzini

The problem with mystery series, at least for me, is that too many of them go on past their prime. Part of this is because readers don't seem to notice the fall off that begins with adventure number thirty one and continues all the way through adventure number seventy eight. The writer is on auto pilot and so is the reader. The whole thing becomes a ritual, like mass.

You'll note that I said "for me." I'm in the minority in the mystery world where series are concerned. Hell, I've read all the Nero Wolfes twice over and I'm perfectly willing to read them through again. So I'm afmiliar with the addiction.

Happily there are exceptions to my complaint about series, some of the exceptions being quite notable. At the top of this exceptional list is Bill Pronzini's Nameless series. I have been reviewing these books since the early Eighties and I've been an admirer (and failed imitator of it) all that while.

As I've said before, the pleasures of the Nameless books are two-fold: they are social histories of San Francisco and environs as well as finely conceived and often stunning mystery stories. And they are something like the genuine autobiography of the man who writes them. The gruff, blue collar, wry, angry, sentimental soul who exposes himself and his feelings on every page of every book. I don't think has ever been a series like this.

Another extraordinary aspect of the series is that it has gotten constantly better. Pronzini was a solid writer from the git-go but what he is doing these days is far beyond solid, it is masterful and will, I predict, take its place in the mystery field as one of the enduring bodies of work.

Fever, the new Nameless, concerns Mitchell Krochek who hires Nameless to find his missing wife, Janice, a woman with a serious gambling addiction, a woman who has run away before. There are two exceptionally cunning twists early on that set us up for the descent of Nameless (and his two recent associates) into the dark world of people who prey on gamblers. I'd never heard of this world before and Pronzini makes it grimly fascinating.

The writing is clean, evocative, true to Nameless and true to the very real and very troubled characters. This, like all the Nameless novels, is for every day grown-ups. You won't find any of gaudy cut-outs of so much bestselling fiction. Instead you'll be absorbed by the almost Simenonesque contemplation of people who, like Nameless, are struggling through life in these deeply disturbing times.

If you care about serious work by a serious writer, make sure you find this book and read it. This is a series that should never end. It's got more juice than ever.

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