Read November 2016
Recommended for people who want a mystery without thriller
My mother recently retired, so I’m looking around for a new mystery series to entertain her. She rather enjoys series, so here’s hoping the Nameless Detective works out–there are 38 other books. In one of those rare moments of gender reversal, I recognized Pronzini’s name as the husband of Marsha Muller, a mystery writer I enjoyed reading for many years. Overall, I’d say it that while it is decently written, it feels very much of the old world order, full of assumptions.
It begins with members of the detective agency looking for Janice Krochek, housewife of a wealthy engineer, who has gone missing. Although it isn’t the first time, this time she’s been gone for three weeks. They track her to a seedy hotel on the edge the Tenderloin, a district of San Francisco known for prostitution. She’s enjoying her gambling binge, prostitution and all, and refuses to go home, leaving them in a bit of an ethical quandry. As they try to wrap that up, they begin a pro-bono case for a woman whose son has recently been assaulted and whose strange behavior has her worried.
“She was thirty-three, but in the dim light, and without makeup, she looked older; you could see the stress lines around her mouth and eyes. Addiction will do that to you, no matter what type of addiction it happens to be.”
“Not that you could blame him, really, after all the financial losses he’d already suffereed, but still it lowered him a notch or two in my estimation… Down another notch. Maybe you couldn’t blame him for hiding assets, either, but it’s illegal.”
Narrative is shared between Bill, the now-named ‘Nameless Detective,’ Tamara, his agency partner, and Jake, an ex-cop and widower. Each one follows their own story; in Tamara’s case, her story mostly figures on her personal life. Bill concentrates on looking for Janice and solving his team’s issues, and Jake has a mix of both personal and professional issues to cover.
Though published in 2008, there is an overall tone of <i>datedness.</i> “The agency seldom handled that kind [of case] unless the client was well-heeled, and then with reluctance, but recently they’d started taking on selected cases involving African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities who needed investigative services but couldn’t afford them.” Oh my. First, Pronzini mixes his categories by equating people of color with economic disparity. Second, ‘minority?’ Really? You do know the ‘minority’ in California is slowly making its way toward straight white dude, right? Then there’s the solution to this minor, low-budget mystery. Let’s just say that Pronzini has yet to fully embrace the complexity of identity and conflates certain identity issues with mental health. I remain reasonably convinced that if you are going to try and write the ‘other’ when you are from the privileged demographic, you are beholden to write sensitively and with finesse. I mean, it is the most annoying kind of position where the author and characters are self-righteous about the situations they encounter.
Then there is the dinner out, where Bill’s wife and Tamara engage in a lengthy conversation about cosmetic surgery, concluding with “Tamara said dreamily, ‘One thing I can see myself getting talked into, that’s the hymen reattachment thing.’” Wtf. I know it is a real procedure, but I just don’t believe this conversation. Why would a 20 year old want that? Why would Tamara, who is partner in the agency? I’m not sure of the purpose of the conversation, except to shock Bill, cementing his old-fogeyness. And to shock me when the wife suggests it would be a ‘present’ to Bill to have her hymen reattached. Wtf(2). Clearly, Pronzini didn’t do much research for this conversation. Any women out there want to go back and re-live their first intercourse? Yeah, thought not.
Meanwhile, Jake is stalking a half-disfigured, half-beautiful woman. I mean, not really stalking. Just driving around the neighborhood he last saw her. He’s convinced they have a connection, so he keeps trying to ‘run into’ her. But don’t worry; she’s totally empowered and recognizes a kindred soul. Then there’s the small old-fogey moment when Bill is all self-righteous about cell phones and driving, pulls over to the side of the road every time someone calls him. –dammit, lost my contact in the back of my eye again. It wasn’t horrible enough for me to do not finish, but it did just seem… dated, with characters that haven’t been updated for decades, kind of like watching Andy Griffith. Bill’s smart, everyone else needs fixing, and we can be generous to poor minorities once we’re done helpin’ the little lady. And stalking is okay if there’s a real connection. I dunno, it could have been tolerable, even enjoyable, in the hands of a highly skilled writer. I think of early Scudder, set in the 1970s and with hookers with hearts of gold. Somehow time period dinosaurs are much more interesting than the ones I already know.