Fresh Meat: Vixen by Bill Pronzini

Vixen by Bill Pronzini is the newest addition to the Nameless Detective series where a femme fatale spells more than trouble for the semi-retired P.I. (available June 23, 2015).

The Nameless Detective is semi-retired which, as Vixen opens, suits him just fine. As a pulp fiction enthusiast, he prefers spending his days reading and cataloging his book collection, or maybe catching an afternoon Giants game, but above all, he likes having others run the investigative agency that he built. Of course, fans who have been following Nameless since his debut novel in 1971 know this idyllic existence won’t last long. And, thankfully, one of the most diabolical femme fatales in a long time— Cory Beckett—hires him to find her brother, Kenny. Bill Pronzini’s description is classic and yet seemingly fresh all at once:

But what you noticed first, and remembered most vividly, was her luminous gray green eyes. They had a powerful magnetic quality; I could feel the pull of them, like being drawn into dark, calm water. It was only when you got to know who and what she was that you realized the calm surface was a lie, that underneath there weren’t only smoldering sexual fires but riptides and whirlpools and hungry darting things with razor-sharp teeth.

Kenny was charged with stealing a $20,000 necklace from the wife of a wealthy and well-connected yachtsman named Andrew Vorhees. Cory says she wants to locate him before Kenny’s lawyer and the authorities discover he violated the agreement of his bail. Helping our main protagonist (and doing a healthy amount of the leg work) is Jake Runyon, another P.I. from Nameless’s agency, (a continuing strength is the author has enough robust supporting characters that zipping between them from chapter to chapter works like clockwork) who picks up Kenny’s trail near Port Sonoma marina. After the young man tries to make a break for it and Runyon captures him, the terrified skip-trace tells a whopper of a story.

He claims the owner of the necklace, Mrs. Margaret Vorhees, wanted to incriminate his sister, Cory, with stealing the jewelry, but Cory heard of her plan and managed to arrange for the item to be found in Kenny’s possession instead. Cory was able to detour Vorhees’ plan because she is sleeping with a man named Frank Chaleen who Mrs. Vorhees arranged to plant the incriminating evidence. Still with me? Hope so, because it is a marvelously inspired plot that asks so many demanding questions like why would Cory want her brother, who she has taken care of since her mom died, take the fall? Despite all her flaws, she seems to sincerely care for him or at least did at one time. How could her plan benefit them? Adding to the jumble it appears that Chaleen had an earlier affair with Mrs. Vorhees.

Events take a deadlier turn when Kenny finds a gun Cory has stashed away and overhears her plotting on the phone. It unnerves him enough that he relays it to Jake Runyon who he has begun to trust.

Runyon said, “Tell me exactly what your sister said on the phone. Everything you can remember.”

“ ‘Bitch deserves it for what she did.’ ” That mimicking falsetto again. “ ‘Be careful, darling, no mistakes. So much at stake for both of us once she’s out of the way.’ ”

“Who did she mean by ‘bitch’?”

“Mrs. Vorhees.”

“Mentioned her by name?”

“No, but I know that’s who she meant.”

Vixen continues to expand character development, suspense, and offers plenty of unexpected twists. If you thought General Sternwood was running a household of lunacy in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, then you are in for a 21st Century update on family values run amok. Or better. Yeah, I said it. Vixen by Bill Pronzini outshines that earlier classic by at least one fedora. Don’t believe me? Strip away the nostalgia we hold for all things Marlowe and read both books back to back and Vixen will sparkle brighter, just like Mrs. Vorhees’ gleaming necklace.

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Edward A. Grainger aka David Cranmer is the editor/publisher of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and books and the recent Western novella, Hell Town Shootout.

Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.

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