Onyx reviews: Spook by Bill
In book after book, Bill Pronzini neglected to give his detective protagonist
a name. Other characters simply started talking to him. After all, how often do
people use each other's names? Over the course of nearly thirty novels, this
nameless detective gradually became known as, well, "Nameless
Detective." In the tradition of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, Nameless
is identified only by what he does.
Pronzini has said in interviews that he identifies strongly with Nameless, so it
should come as no surprise that when the author finally decided to christen his
protagonist, he calls him Bill. No last name, but he's no longer completely
anonymous. Bill/Nameless has aged with his author and he occasionally interacts
with another San Francisco detective, Sharon McCone, who happens to be the
fictional creation of Pronzini's wife.
One reason Bill Detective gets a name is that he's no longer a lone wolf. His
detective agency has expanded. Getting on in years—he's sixty-one—Nameless
has promoted his young assistant, Tamara, to full partner, and the duo are in
the process of hiring an additional operative when Spook opens.
They settle on Jake Runyon, a former cop who moved to San Francisco from Seattle
after his second wife died of cancer. He has family issues he wants to resolve
in Seattle and he needs a job. Nameless and Tamara know very little of his
situation beyond what they learn from a background check and Runyon is
close-mouthed about his personal life.
Runyon is eager to work, so Nameless and Tamara assign him the task of
identifying Spook, a homeless man murdered in the doorway of a film production
company. They call him Spook because he talked to unseen people. The people at
Visuals, Inc. had befriended the man—"he didn't have a mean bone in his
body"—and that he should die anonymously within a week of Christmas nags
at them. They don't hire Nameless and his team to solve the murder; they just
want to know who he was.
Runyon proves his mettle by quickly turning up clues the police overlooked. One
lead sets him on the path of another homeless man known as Big Dog, a recent and
menacing arrival in the neighborhood.
Tamara, meanwhile, is trying to work things out with her long-time cellist
boyfriend, Horace. He wants her to marry him and move to Philadelphia, where he
has been offered a position with the symphony. Her mood swings ("mood
leaps," Nameless calls them) have Nameless watching his step around his new
Like Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder, Nameless has developed connections with
society. Once a loner, he's now married and they have adopted a young girl whose
parents were murdered. He has a family, he's getting on in years, and he's
slowly turning the reins of his business over to others. He may be nameless, but
he's a familiar character undergoing familiar life transitions.
Runyon does most of the legwork on the Spook case while Nameless handles a less
energetic investigation for Sharon McCone. The sparse clues lead Runyon to a
decades-old unsolved murder that still has someone angry that justice went
unserved. The story culminates in Nameless' squalid office when twenty years of
pent-up anger explodes into a dangerous hostage situation. Nameless may be
winding down, but when the crisis comes, he and his new team have to work
together if they're going to survive to return for another adventure.
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