From: James R Winter ( winter_writes@earthlink.net)
Date: 14 Jan 2005

Sometimes with a third novel, I get the impression the author still hasn't figured out his character yet. I suppose one could say that about Nameless in his first two outings. In THE SNATCH and THE VANISHED (neither particularly inspiring titles in and of themselves), Pronzini tells a couple of decent tales about an affable guy, an ex-cop and private eye who got into the business because he loved the pulps. All through these first two outings, Nameless lives under the specter of "the thing in my lungs that I didn't want to think about." You know BLOWBACK is coming. You can feel that lurking in the background as a subplot waiting for the right moment, but it goes nowhere. You get a sense that Pronzini is tinkering first.

Well, if THE SNATCH and THE VANISHED are prototypes, then UNDERCURRENT is the series' dry run. Nameless still isn't quite there yet, but in a plot Ross MacDonald would have applauded (and maybe he did), Nameless travels south of San Francisco on what's supposed to be a cheating spouse case. He doesn't want the case, but the rent is due and the bank account is drained. Nameless follows Walter Paige to Cypress Bay, a small town near Monterrey, and watches him from a nearby bungalow at the same motel on the beach where Paige is staying. He follows Paige around, observes him talking to a balding man, and follows him back. Pretty dull stuff, which Pronzini doesn't overwork too much. It occurs to Nameless that the bungalows are approachable from the beach, where he can't see any visitiors Paige might receive. He goes out, only to find Paige opening his door. He's been stabbed and is dead by the time Nameless reaches him.

Here in this story, bits of Nameless's life already established weave into the plot. He spots a pulp paperback by an author he knows of in Paige's room. The chief, a decent cop who could use the help, lets Nameless follow up on the lead, both thinking its little more than a dead end. Nameless is only interested because he now feels he owes his client, and the writer is a local anyway. That leads him to Paige's old drinking gang, some bad blood, and a couple of murders.

It's definitely not Pronzini's finest, but it's a decent read. And it feels like he's getting a handle on the character. Nameless's hobby lets him stumble into the thinnest of clues and spin it into a case. His bad lung holds him back at some point, and one wonders off and on if he's going to drop dead during the ordeal.

One thing Pronzini does exceptionally well is deal with physical consequences. Nameless and the chief are up for over twenty-four hours, and you feel it in the story. All too often, writers (including me) will sometimes let their characters perform feats of superhuman strength after staying up 36 hours straight. I don't know about you, but when I was younger, after 30 hours, I was too exhausted to even sleep. And now, 24 is the max I can go without sleep. So Pronzini makes his characters exhausted and lets the reader feel it.

Like I said, this feels like a dry run for BLOWBACK (now sitting on my shelf awaiting the next round o' PI books to start.) Not to take away from the first two (which) I liked, but this feels like the real start of the Nameless series.

Jim Winter

http://www.jamesrwinter.com http://jamesrwinter.blogspot.com winter-newsletter-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 14 Jan 2005 EST