Fresh Meat: Nemesis by Bill Pronzini

Nemesis by Bill Pronzini is the 38th novel featuring the Nameless DetectiveNemesis by Bill Pronzini returns Nameless to assist the other detectives at his agency when a young, wealthy, and not entirely trustworthy woman is threatened (available July 9, 2013).

What's in a name? That which we call a detective would solve as well? You get the idea, and so does Bill Pronzini.

Pronzini didn't set out to start a Nameless Detective series in 1971 when he wrote The Snatch, but I'm glad he did. This character has evolved from a hard-boiled loner to a family-oriented man. That's not to say he's lost his edge when needed. Like when someone pokes a gun in his face.

You never get used to being on the wrong end of a firearm…Adrenaline rush of fear that you immediately fight down and control, because you know the worst thing you can do is let it take hold and escalate into panic. All of that happens inside. Outwardly you show none of it, do the same thing you would if you were being menaced by a vicious animal: stand dead still, maintain a blank expression without challenge or bravado, keep a clear head to give yourself time to assess the situation and figure a way out of it.

In Nemesis, the MWA Grand Master's 38th Nameless novel, we get to see his detective—referred to only as Bill by those around him—also as a boss, mentor, friend and lover. This is where Pronzini's additional mastery of the short story comes in handy.

He weaves his character's flaws and relationships together by giving each major player a speaking part in a section of their own. Pronzini not only has them deal with the case but also their personal nemesis.

Nameless delivers a brief prologue then Jake Runyon takes the stage and sets the story. It doesn't take Jake long to figure out that their client, Verity Daniels's blackmail case sounded a little fishy.

Runyon rode the elevator down with the image of her smile lingering in his mind. It hadn’t been one of relief, nor had it been impersonal. Bright, like in a dental ad on TV. Bright eyes, too. A smile and a look that were almost flirtatious. And that in retrospect struck him as oddly secretive.

In part two, we get Tamara Corbin's take on the case. Tamara is the glue at the agency.  She reminds me of a cross between Criminal Minds' Penelope Garcia and Chloe O'Brian from 24.

Runyon reports in:

“So you think maybe Ms. Daniels wasn’t being straight with you? Withholding information?”

“Hard to say exactly. Mostly it was the way she conducted herself— not quite the way you’d expect a worried shakedown victim to act.”

“She sounded pretty upset on the phone.”

“Misconception on my part, probably. Victims aren’t always consistent in the way they act.”

Tamara does a little digging and comes to her own conclusion about their client.

“Well, she’s not Ms. Sunshine. Got some truth issues, that’s for sure.”

After more digging she takes a stab at Verity Daniel's motive.

“Maybe she’s more scared than smart.”

“Not that scared and not stupid. What ever’s behind this, she’s still a victim.”

“And our client, despite the lies,” Tamara said. “Better she should be paying us than some sleazeball extortionist.”

Despite her rough exterior, Tamara has a soft spot for Runyon:

She knew something was wrong as soon as Jake Runyon walked into her office.

Man always had the look of a business exec when he was working, neat, clean, freshly shaved. Not today. His suit and shirt were wrinkled, collar undone and tie crooked, beard stubble darkening his cheeks and chin.

There was some kind of iodine- treated gash on his neck, too, angling up out of the open shirt collar. And his expression . . . grim. Real grim.

She felt sorry for him, an almost maternal kind of sympathy. Yeah, right, maternal. Earth Mother Tamara, who’d never even come close to having or wanting kids. Besides, the man was almost as old as Pop.

Part three invites us deeper into Bill the Nameless Detective's world. A murderous turn of events brings the bossman into the case.

And the biggest question: Why frame Runyon for murder? A revenge killing, if that was the motive, is a crime of passion; premeditation, the kind that includes diverting suspicion to someone else doesn't usually enter into it.

With his ace detective locked away, Bill takes over.

“Wanted you to know that I’m on it, Jake. Tamara, too. With or without police cooperation, for as long as it takes.”

Bill proves he will go the extra mile. What happens with Bill stays with Bill.

I should not have had to ask that question; I should have realized what he was doing. But I didn’t until I saw the gun come out, and then it was too late.

All in one motion, with no hesitation, he dragged it from under the pile of papers, brought the long barrel up under his chin, and pulled the trigger.

What I’d seen in that office was a thing to be shared with no one, now or ever— another link in the chain of large and small horrors that belonged only to me.

Bill fights demons of his own.

I had the old nightmare again— a distorted, subconscious replay of the three months I’d spent shackled to the mountain cabin wall and left there to die.

Nemesis delivers a good thought-provoking mystery without exploiting gory crime scenes and unnecessary violence.

In the end it doesn't matter who Bill is as much as what he stands for as a detective and man. He's an everyday man with everyday needs. He shuns technology. He lives in a world where time heals all wounds and a cold beer is always welcomed.

Loyalty and a man's word mean everything.

It is quoted in interviews that when Bill Pronzini imagines the Nameless Detective, he sees Bill Pronzini. So do we.

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Cindy Kerschner is an avid mystery fan, freelance writer and professional cook. You can learn about her through her website at http://www.cindysrecipesandwritings.com.

Read all posts by Cindy Kerschner on Criminal Element.

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