Sunday, February 3, 2013

This Femme is Quite Fatale

Bill Pronzini
Cemetery Dance
175 p.
trade hardcover $19.99
signed limited edition hardcover $50
deluxe traycased and lettered edition $175

One of my favorite subgenres, and probably the one I read the least since I started this blog, is that of the private eye.  And one of the top practitioners of the form is Bill Pronzini.  His Nameless Detective series has been going since the 70s, with new entries still being added.

The most recent is the novella Femme, published this past fall by Cemetery Dance along with a reprint of another Nameless novella, Kinsmen.  They were separate volumes, but Cemetery Dance had a preorder special.  I snatched them both up.  (The trade editions, but even without the signatures, they were a good buy and look great on the shelf.)

Both feature top notch covers by Glen Orbik; more on that shortly.

This particular tale is told from two perspectives, that of Nameless along with his associate Jake Runyon.  The case opens when Nameless is called in by a bail bondsman to look for a young man, Kenneth Beckett, who's skipped out ten days before he goes to trial.  His older sister Cory is very concerned about him and wants to see him home safely before anyone finds out he's gone, especially his straight-arrow attorney and most especially the judge.

Cory Beckett is young, smart, and exudes sexuality like most people exhale carbon dioxide.  She's also lying through her teeth about what's really going on.  I'm not spoiling any plot developments by telling you that.  The sexy client who's lying is a well established trope in detective fiction.  In the hands of a master like Pronzini, you can see why that trope is still around and why it will never get old.  The woman in this story pure evil, and she corrupts everyone she comes in contact with for an extended period of time.

Nameless and Runyon know they're being played even before Runyon finds Kenneth, but there's little they can do about it, ethically or legally.  At least not until they get pulled back into the case.  Before the case is over, they'll have faced one of the deadliest criminals they've ever encountered.

This one didn't disappoint.  Since this is a novella, it can be read in just a couple of hours on a quiet evening, which is how I read it.  Also, since it's a novellla, I'll not discuss the plot details any further.

One of the enjoyable things about long running detective series is watching the character grow and change throughout the course of the series.  I wish I could say I've read all the Nameless stories, but I've not even come close.  Some of the titles are rather scarce.  (I know I could probably find all of them online fairly quickly, but sometimes the hunt is half the fun.)  I have, however, read enough to be able to see how Nameless has grown and matured along with Pronzini's skill as a writer. If you're a fan of the series, you'll want to have this one.  If you're not, the price tag might be a bit steep for an introduction.  If you do decide to make Nameless's acquaintance, I doubt you'll regret it.  (And, yes, by now he has a name.  You'll have to read the books to find out what it is.)

One last thing about the cover.  Glen Orbik is one of the best artists working in the pulp and noir field.  Check out the gallery on his web site if you don't believe me.  Or even if you do.  He's done a number of covers for Hard Case Crime.  When I saw the cover of Femme, it tripped a switch in my brain.

Take a gander at the cover on the right.  Lady look familiar?  Same face, same earrings, same gun.  I wonder if the cover for Femme was originally done for Money Shot.  The scene fits the story better in the latter than in the former.  Not that I'm complaining.  They're both very well done and deserve to be seen somewhere. (I also suspect Orbik used the same model and gun for the cover of Songs of Innocence.  Not sure about the earrings.)


  1. This sounds interesting. What work would you suggest as a jumping in point for the series, if this one fails the cut in terms of cost/benefit? Although I have to confess to being a cover addict, and I agree that Orbik's work is fantastic. I've picked up several Hard Case Crime novels--and since I am not well-learned in the genre, the purchase decisions were initially determined in large part by the covers, including both Money Shot and Songs of Innocence (I guess I'm an art dept/marketing dept dream that way). Here's hoping that Orbik will have a book put out collecting his cover art at some point. That's one that I would definitely buy.

    --Jason T.

    1. That's a tough question, Jason. I've wanted to read this series in order, and it's the earlier volumes I've had the most trouble finding. The bulk of what I've read has been the shorter stuff. Unfortunately both Nameless collections are OOP, which is a shame because there's some real variety in them as far as story type and execution. I suspect any of the novels would be a good place to start. Over the series Nameless goes from being a solo operative to the head of a small agency. So if you want solo, read the older stuff.

      As far as Hard Case Crime is concerned, I _can_ make some recommendations there, although I've not found time to read much of their more recent titles. While neither Money Shot nor Songs of Innocence were my cup of tea, (too much detail about the porn industry in the former, too bleak an ending in the latter), I've loved most of their titles. The Confession, Plunder of the Sun, Zero Cool, Robbie's Wife, and any of the Lawrence Block titles have stood out in my mind. My favorite, though, has to be A Touch of Death by Charles Williams. I've gone on to read other books by Williams, and he's never disappointed. Noir is such a broad field that there's something for just about everyone.

      And I agree with you about an Orbik art book. I'd buy it, too.

  2. I started reading a Thompson last night, "A Hell of a woman." Just finished James Sallis's Driven. Getting into some noir myself.

    1. I've got that Thompson around somewhere, but I've not read Sallis. Thanks for the tip, Charles.