Friday, April 5, 2013

Unearthing Justice: Bones (1985), by Bill Pronzini

the American hardcover edition
The seventieth birthday of Bill Pronzini arrives on April 13, and to my mind this event calls for special notice this month on this blog.  Many of Pronzini's older works have been reissued in paperback and ebook form by Speaking Volumes, making it, I believe, even more the time to explore this author's rich and varied output of work.  From 1971, with The Snatch and The Stalker, right up to today, with Nemesis and The Spook Lights Affair (the latter book co-authored with his wife, Marcia Muller), Bill Pronzini has given crime fiction fans many books that will amply reward their attention.

Of course Pronzini is well-known for his Nameless Detective series, which in novel form has been running for forty-two years--almost as long as this Passing Tramp been running!

Bones, from 1985, is a good example of what I think of as Phase Two in the long Nameless saga.  This Phase Two ran from 1980 (Labyrinth) through 1986 (Deadfall). This is a an excellent run of novels.

the new edition
Bones offers readers an interesting problem and is enlivened with vignettes, many of them quite humorous, from Nameless' personal life (Nameless and his girlfriend Kerry Wade have to deal with Wanda, the appalling and quite awesomely chesty girlfriend of Nameless' partner, Eberhardt--marriage between the two lovebirds seems to be looming, much to the chagrin of Eberhardt's friends).

Eating out at a restaurant, Nameless and Kerry experience the 1984 Morgan Hill earthquake (a rumble of a different sort occurs at another restaurant when a reluctant Nameless and Kerry go on a double date with Eberhardt and Wanda). Silly me, I thought at the time that this was just some narrative decoration.  In fact, the earthquake plays a key role in the plot (think of the tile).

Bones is one of those teasing murder in retrospect cases, like Agatha Christie's Five Little Pigs--in the United States retitled, appropriately enough, Murder in Retrospect--and Ngaio Marsh's Died in the Wool.

Bill Pronzini at the time Bones was published
In the novel Nameless is hired by a man to investigate the suicide, thirty-five years earlier, of the man's father, pulp writer Harmon Crane (Nameless seems to have a knack for murder cases involving pulp writers).

It seems that Harmon Crane died in a locked room, no less, so experienced detective fiction readers will know to expect an especially rewarding problem!

Complications, including two more shootings (one of which again is in a locked room) ensue, before Nameless finally sees the light.  But though he finds the truth, will he be able to unearth justice?  Read Bones and see.

Over the next ten days I will be looking at another of Bill Pronzini's Nameless tales, as well as some of his non-Nameless crime novels.


  1. Haven't read this one Curt, but you have me salivating at the prospect - and Pronzini definitely deserves a birthday tribute!


  2. A very good one! One of my favorites in the series. Locked rooms and pulp magazines. How can you go wrong? Bill has a huge collection of pulps. And a huge collection of all kinds of mystery novels, too. One I would love to see someday.

    Great idea for a tribute. Patti Abbott is helping to promote it, too. I hope there are several contributors. I'll have one of his most recent books ready.

  3. I'm game. I have several unread Nameless novels kicking around and can review one of them for the tribute.

    And loved Bones for the same reasons stated by John. It's one of the best alongside Shackles, Hoodwink and Scattershot.

  4. Another vote for BONES. Read it for the first time last year,and loved it. The sub-plot about Wanda and Eberhardt was hilarious, with the dinner from Hell being a marvellous set piece. The final resolution of the problems was quite touching.

  5. I thought I had translated and published my article about Bones by Bill Pronzini. But I didn't publish it, also. The next article on my blog "Deathcanread", will be that.
    Who knows italian language can read it, here:

  6. Pietro,

    I look forward to reading that!


    I knew this would be a good one, but the hilarity of the Wanda-Eberhardt subplot was unexpected. I thought the relationship between Nameless and Eb as really well done here.

  7. I remember this being a pretty good one. I read it long after it was published, and, by coincidence, right after I read Loren Estelman's A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, also about a pulp writer and an old murder. It's one of Estleman's best.