Created by Bill Pronzini (1943--)
In a master stroke (or maybe just a happy accident), it took Bill Pronzini years to get around to naming his private eye protagonist. But by then he had made him such a well-rounded, finely-drawn character that a name seemed almost superflous, and even now that we all know his name (it's Bill), most of his fans still think of him as "NAMELESS."
Middle-aged, out of shape, content with a cold beer and one of his beloved pulp magazines to read, Nameless was the detective as Everyman; the first true couch potato P.I. A decent man, a good man, the kind of guy who'd stop and lend you a hand if your car broke down, or give up his seat on the bus for a pregnant lady. The kind of guy you'd play poker with, or see at a ballgame with hotdog mustard on his sleeve. Of course, he's not just another not-so-pretty face. He's also a tenacious detective, as dedicated to his profession as Hammett's Continental Op, and just as shrewd. In fact, Pronzini often pays homage to Hammett (and the whole gumshoe genre, in fact) as Nameless tromps down the same San Francisco mean streets that the Op went down over eighty years ago.
Maybe not as hard-boiled, or as hard-drinking, but he's no softie, either. Pronzini has definitely put his hero through the wringer-heartbreak, cancer, capture by a psychopath, betrayal by his best friend. Enough slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to fill a lifetime, which is really the whole point. This is what the series is really about-the chronicle of one man's life and times.
The Nameless series offers a wide-range of formats and styles, from short shorts, to full-blown novels, from retro-hardboiled to locked-room mysteries to good-humoured collaborations with other writers to the modern noir of 1991's "Soul's Burning." Over two dozen novels and three-score short stories since 1967.
Always a critical darling, though never true best-sellers, the twenty-sixth novel in the long-running series, Crazybone (2000), ended with the intriguing possibility that Nameless and Kerry would adopt a child, suggesting a move far from the hard-edged dramas of a lone wolf private eye. In fact, at the time Pronzini himself let it be known (in Mystery & Detective Monthly and perhaps elsewhere) that he wasn't going to write any more Nameless novels, unless he got an exceptional offer from some publisher. However, he planned to end the series on an upbeat note and to allow for its possible (and from this quarter, much-hoped for) revival.
Well, I guess somebody made a deal, or came to their senses or something, because the hiatus was soon over. The next nove in the series, Bleeders (2002), found Nameless at the crossroads, indeed. And it could have ended there.
Instead, it marked a true turning point in the series.
By the next year's Spook (2003), Nameless was settling into domesticity, with not just a wife but a child, and preparing for semi-retirement, handing over the day-to-day duties of running a small agency over to his feisty, impulsive young partner, Tamara Corbin, and breaking in a new investigator, taciturn former Seattle cop and widower Jake Runyon.
Since then, the books (and there's been a new one almost every year since) have slipped into a formula of sorts that might almost be called cozy, were it not for Pronzini's seemingly endless ability to shake things up, and probe under the skin of his characters. Each book now typically features three separate but often thematically linked cases (one each for Nameless, and his two employees, Jake and Tamara) and usually at least one personal or moral crisis for at least one of them. Not the lone wolf action-packed adventures of yore, perhaps, but a realistic and revealing (and unapologetically adult) continuation of one man's journey down the mean streets.
The Nameless series is simply one of the bravest and most gripping voyages detective fiction has to offer -- climb on board. Highly and heartily recommended.
And that's not to mention the numerous non-series works Pronzini's written under his own, and several other pseudonyms such as Alex Saxon, Jack Foxx and William Jeffrey. And yet, so far, Pronzini has always pulled it off. He's a master. Hoodwink grabbed the 1981 Best Novel Shamus, "Cat's Paw" nabbed the 1983 Short Story Award and he's been nominated a zillion other times.
Incidently, Bill Pronzini has always said that when imagines the Nameless Detective, he sees Bill Pronzini.
Pronzini is something of a one-man publishing machine. He's written scores of books under various aliases, including the Quincannon series, about a PI in the Old West. And, in case you're wondering why Nameless and Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone are so palsy, always teaming up, maybe the fact that their respective creators have been married for years may have something to do with it.
-- Deadfall (suggested by Terry Lane)
-- Terry Lane
-- Lawrence Block, in the May/June 2000 issue of American Heritage, when asked who The Most Overrated and Underrated Fictional Private Eyes were. By the way, he named his own Matt Scudder as the most overrated P.I.
Co-written with Marcia Muller; featuring Sharon McCone
SHORT STORIES & NOVELLAS
An interesting -- if dated -- interview with Bill Pronzini and his wife. Marcia Muller from 1996, on how they've found the write stuff in one another and in their 15-year relationship. Written by David Templeton.
Some of the longest running P.I. series.
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