Saturday, June 11, 2016

Book Review: ZIGZAG by Bill Pronzini

   You can’t fake it, the kind of mastery Bill Pronzini shows in all his writing, whatever the genre, whatever the length.  And his years of writing Grand Master-level material inform every single line and scene in this new collection. Included are two new novellas and two short stories well worth reprinting. 
   The novellas are equally strong. “Zigzag” demonstrates that the simplest of mishaps—a minor accident investigation—can take you places you may not want to go. Nameless really earns his private eye money on this one. 
  The melancholy truths of “Grapplin’” shows us the emotional power that underpins so much of Pronzini’s most celebrated work over the years even though it also manages to be filled with kind and gentle truths. On this one Nameless shares the spotlight with his new business partner Tamara.      
   The two short stories are strong and fresh. They illustrate that no matter what form Pronzini uses, he makes it his own.  
   My favorite here is “Revenant.” Pronzini has always done well by the supernatural even though he is certainly a skeptic.      
   What we have a here is a spin on road rage. A strange man named Antanas Vok piled his car into an embankment, blaming Peter Erskine and his wife Marian for the crash. Witnesses say otherwise. Vok’s wife dies in the accident and Vok stands there screaming threats at the Erskines. He will make sure that they will be dead, too.
     A year later, Vok is still stalking them and they are scared. The police have been no help. Lately the harassment has taken a turn into the occult.
     The black host is the Satanic version of the Roman Catholic host. When you touch it the residue sticks to both your fingers and your clothes.  Vok has sent them a black host to show them his power over them.
     Supernatural power? Erskine doesn’t believe it and neither does Nameless. Marian Erskine can’t decide what she believes.  
    Oh, and there’s one other small problem. How can Vok be sending them black hosts when he’s been dead for some time?   
    Nameless is surprised when he meets Marian who spends a good deal of her time in a gazebo-like creation that could only be found in the type of posh gated community the Erskines live in.
   Marian turns out to be substantially older than her husband and very frail. Namesless notes that in today’s one percent culture it’s all right for older women to have trophy husbands. Peter isn’t exactly a pretty boy but close. Marian’s obvious drinking problem adds just one more confusing psychological layer to the meeting. 
    The Erskines beg Nameless to take the case and ultimately he chooses to because the fee they offer him is so good and he’s just so damned curious about what’s really going on here.
    This is the way to tell a supernatural story—sardonically.  Pronzini show us that no matter how bizarre the world of the supernatural is, the human world is always stranger.
   A five star collection. Perfect for a wide range of readers.   


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