Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bill Pronzini at his best

Bill Pronzini's novella Femme is one of the best written and most cleverly engineered private eye stories I've ever had the immense pleasure to read.  The piece is original to the dazzling package Cemetery Dance has given both it and Kinsmen.

The "Femme" in the title is one Cory Beckett, so breathtakingly beautiful she can freeze you in your tracks. There are such women. Ostensibly she hires Nameless to find her bail-jumping brother Kenneth who is momentarily free after being charged with stealing an expensive necklace owned by her boss' wife.

But if you think that's what's really going on you're probably someone who thinks Karl Rove is a nice guy. Oh no. Nameless investigates but since Pronzini keeps turning the story back on itself (you have to read it to understand just how masterfully Pronzini constructs Femme) Nameless has to keep second guessing himself. This is a tale that belongs in The P.I. Hall of Fame.

I'm hoping Bill eventually turns this into a novel. I've rarely seen sex more convincingly portrayed as a deadly weapon.

Kinsmen (A Nameless Detective Novella)

Bill Pronzini has a special gift for portraying the ominous underbelly of America, the troubled and dangerous people who want to destroy our political system.  Call them what you will--Klan, Birchers, Tea Baggers--they hope to undermine the aspirations of average Americans by suggesting that violent overthrow may someday be the only answer.

In the meantime, well short of that grandiose scheme, they pick on people who give them offense.  Here Nameless is hired by a mother whose college student daughter has vanished along with her black boy friend. Given the nature of the Kinsmen, a far-right group that has many in the area of the college living in fear of speaking up, Nameless has reason to be worried about their fate.

The terror here never lets go. And Pronzini's skill at dramatizing the effects of violence on average people has never been more startling. Though I'd read this a few times after it was originally published in the 90s, this time through I was seized by it.  Present day America is far scarier than it was when Kinsman was first published.

The Presidency of Barack Obama has brought out the kind of racism not seen since the early 1960s.  Kinsman is a belated wake-up call.


Mathew Paust said...

I'm reading one of Bill's novels right now -- Hellbox. Thanks, Ed, for turning me on to this terrific writer.

Kara Boulden said...

I read both of these titles a few weeks ago over a weekend, and I was in awe. I agree with everything you wrote, with the addition of the two, read together, is an interesting example of how the Nameless stories have evolved over the years. Pronzini is one of the best, and his work really gets better and better.

Mathew Paust said...

Read Hellbox for Nameless's first name. ;-)