For the last decade or so, Bill Pronzini’s long-running (36 novels and countless novellas and short stories since 1968), name-challenged hero has too often been relegated to a co-starring role in his own books. The spotlight has instead shone increasingly on his fellow associates (who know him as “Bill”) in his small San Francisco detective agency—Tamara Corbin, the feisty young office manager, and Jake Runyon, a brooding former cop who’s become the agency’s primary operative—while the semi-retired Nameless himself has been shunted off to the sidelines, mostly to deal with various domestic issues revolving around his wife Kerry and their adopted daughter Emily.
The books have become three-ring circuses: thematically linked, multiple-viewpoint juggling acts alternating between Tamara, Jake, and Nameless that, while always intriguing and well-written, too often lack the emotional drive and pulpy zest of earlier installments of the series, much to the dismay of longtime fans. Also missing has been the rambunctious glee with which the MWA Grand Master used to pay homage to—while simultaneously subverting—the genre and its expectations. Such early classics as Blowback, Undercurrent, and particularly Shackled (a 1988 tour de force that stepped outside the genre’s comfort zone and ratcheted up the tension to Stephen King levels) were a joy to read; a continuing narrative of a man and his times that kept readers both off-balance and enthralled.
So it’s fitting that the events of Shackled are referred to more than once in Nemesis, a welcome return to form. This time out, Nameless, ostensibly retired, is once more relegated to a supporting role, at least at first, content to stay at home and nurse the emotionally fragile Kerry back to health. But to paraphrase a certain Samuel Spade, when a man’s partner is in a jam, you’re supposed to do something about it. And Jake has landed himself in one helluva jam.
An already suspicious Jake is hired by twitchy young (and newly rich) Verity Daniels to investigate the death threats and demands for money she’s been receiving from an anonymous caller. But Verity turns out to be less than truthful—and more than a little unstable. When things blow up, Jake and the agency are ground zero for a Kafkaesque legal witch hunt that could destroy them both, prompting Nameless back onto the playing field after too long on the bench.
Over the course of this series, he’s faced down heartbreak, health scares, psychopaths, betrayals, and enough assorted slings and arrows to fill a lifetime, and it’s good to see him being put through the wringer once more, gearing up for a battle that truly matters. Welcome back, Bill.