Thursday, March 14, 2013

Neo-Pulp Pronzini

Though I glossed over it when writing Pulp Culture or Neon Noir, I've never really given Bill Pronzini's work the attention it obviously deserves. This even though he's been writing for over half a century, and remains so highly regarded. But unfortunately he's certainly not the only hardboiled writer I've never found the time to read sufficiently. And to be honest, it was really the evocative covers- particularly Femme- illustrated by Glen Orbik and designed by Gail Cross, that, in this instance, that renewed my interest.  I know, Bo Didley aside, one isn't meant to judge a book by its cover and all that, but in this case I did and I have no regrets for having done so. Because Pronzini, with his Nameless Detective, has to be one of the finest  practitioners of neo-noir fiction around. He's old school enough to recall the likes of Ross Macdonald and new school enough to be of interest to those who like their writers to comment on contemporary concerns. Moreover, the idea of a Nameless Detective, who by now has apparently appeared in more than thirty books, continues to be an intriguing and provocative notion.  The detective as blank slate on which his criminal investigations can be written goes back to Chandler's Philip Marlowe and, before that, Paul Cain's The Fast One. His prose is to-the-point, clear and conversational.  From Femme:

In the dozen years I spent in law enforcement and the thirty years I've been a private investigator, I never once had the misfortune to cross paths with this type of seductress. Never expected to. Never thought much about the breed except when confronted with one in a film or the pages of a book or the pulp magazines I collect... [A] real femme fatale in classic mode? Not even close. If you'd told me one day I would, and that her brand of evil would be like nothing I could ever have imagined, I'd have laughed and said no way.

Both these books are essentially novellas, yet they carry the punch of novels. In fact,  Kinsmen, about a far-right group in the Pacific Northwest, first appeared some twenty years ago, but remains timely in an era when racism continues to raise its ugly head. My advice: get both of them, and treat yourself to a writer who, over the years, has honed his literary chops to perfection, and, like his predecessor, Ross Macdonald, can write convincingly about individuals and the effect of violence as well as the dark side of the culture. Now to turn my attention to some of those other seventy novels he's  written over the past fifty years...