Thursday, 30 July 2015

BILL PRONZINI - LABYRINTH (1980)


Synopsis/blurb…..

Nameless is called in by his friend, police lieutenant Eberhardt, when a dead woman's purse contains Nameless's business card. Nameless has never met her, and cannot make a connection. Next, Nameless is hired to track and protect a disturbed man, Martin Talbot, who may be harmed by the husband of a woman who died when Talbot's car collided with theirs after Talbot fell asleep at the wheel.

Labyrinth is the 6th episode in the Nameless series and the first one I’ve read since 2013.

Nameless is involved in a couple of cases here; one of which he is getting paid for – to keep an eye on his employer’s brother and the other which involves a dead woman – unknown to him – but who was found shot dead and carrying his business card.

Martin Talbot was involved in a road traffic accident, which resulted in the death of Victor Carding’s wife. Carding has threatened Talbot and Talbot - a moral and principled man and suffering from guilt and PTSD over the accident feels he should be punished and that his own death would be just. Rich sister, Laura Nichols wishes to avoid such an occurrence, as much for the damage to the family name in the well-to-do community as for any sense of sibling loyalty. She engages Nameless to protect him.

Nameless - broke again, takes the case, despite his initial dislike of Mrs Nichols and her rather sniffy attitude to “common people.” What is it about certain rich people that they are imbued with a sense of entitlement?

Nameless follows Talbot to Carding’s house and one of the pair winds up dead. During the course of subsequent enquiries he discovers that Carding’s son, who was working up the coast has gone missing. Somewhat spookily, the son is also the boyfriend of Christine Webster – Webster being our dead woman, who we encounter at the start of our book.

Do we have a mystery with a series of unlikely coincidences with our two cases connected by common personalities, but separated by motive? Yes, but not really as Pronzini makes you believe in the tale with his plotting skills and well-reasoned narrative.      

A trip up the coast, some gentle questioning, a bit of head-scratching, a bit of suspicion, some more digging, a few dots connected, a bit of late night burglary and an involuntary midnight swim in the Pacific. We get some answers.

It’s difficult to articulate just what it is I like so much about these mysteries.

A sense of place; certainly - with the ones enjoyed thus far, set mainly in and around San Francisco and the surrounding coastal areas. The mysteries themselves, with Nameless usually solving the puzzle, often times in collaboration or with the involvement of the police are only a fraction of the whole. There’s not an over-reliance on action to drive the book forward, sometimes our pace can be somewhat sedate, but that works.

I think the standout feature of the books is the main man himself. Nameless is single – not through choice and has few friends – mainly police officers that we meet during the course of his adventures. He has had health issues – Labyrinth finds him off the cigarettes for 18 months, after being diagnosed with a lesion on the lung in our previous encounter. There’s an inherent decency about him that makes him endearing. Stoic, lonely, aging, mortal……. I can’t help but wish him good health and happiness as I continue to work my way through this series.

5 from 5

Roll on August when I will be reading the seventh in the series – 1981’s Hoodwink.


I bought my copy second hand in the past 3 years or so. Sadly it’s not the signed copy depicted – that’s a web image I found. It is the same edition and I’m not the first person to enjoy it either. My copy – much read in a previous life - entertained members of the East Cleveland Public Library back in the 80s. The note on the inside flap of the book – published 1980 – describes Pronzini as a “veteran mystery writer.” Thirty five years on, the author’s creative juices are still flowing strong – Vixen the 40th instalment in the series was published earlier this year.




20 comments:

  1. A score of 5 from you always makes me sit up. I have enjoyed a couple of Pronzinis, including one you sent me, but I just can't start on another series!

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    1. PS - you didn't get up into the loft this week then...?

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    2. Well it is only a mere 40 books long plus a couple of short story collections - not too challenging!

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    3. Hmm - suffering a big of blogger fatigue TBH. Not been around all my usual haunts and definitely been posting less. I'm undecided whether to continue airing the library on the blog and carry on doing my usual round-ups and 2 BY posts, or whether to just put up a few thoughts on the books I have read.
      I did have the next tub logged and added to my spreadsheet (and the next 7 after that have been photographed) - I just didn't have any enthusiasm for constructing the post and adding all the happy snaps. I may continue the exercise off-line.

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  2. I've always liked Nameless a lot too, Col. He is a decent, moral person, 'though he's also human. And he's had his share of troubles, but doesn't drown himself in booze. I can't help but wish him well, too. I think you make a good point about the setting of these stories too; Pronzini does a great job of evoking the San Francisco area.

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    1. You're right he's exactly that, though in this one he has a rush of blood and commits a burglary - which kind of surprised me. He's at times - short, impatient and a bit grumpy with his neighbour. I liked the way the story was presented as we had an inner monologue from Nameless throughout.
      I almost miss San Francisco's fog when I'm not reading about it!

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  3. This sounds like a good one, thanks.

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    1. Elgin, I have to admit I'm a big fan of this series.

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  4. Great review, Col. I think you are right about Nameless being the main attraction. And it only gets better. At least up through the first 20 that I have read. I don't have a problem with that because I can barely do two posts a week, generally. Especially with work being such a bear right now.

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    1. Tracy thanks. I'm glad I decided to get back into these - hopefully I will stick with him until the end!
      Hope work improves, mine isn't brilliant at the minute, but it tends to be cyclical - hopefully it improves for you soon!

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  5. Great writeup, Col. It sounds like a fun entry in the series. I confess I've read only a couple of the Nameless books, so this sentence --

    Vixen the 40th instalment in the series was published earlier this year.

    strikes a bit of a chill! No way am I ever going to catch up.

    I see from your sidebar that we've both been reading Jonathan Craig more or less simultaneously. I finished his Red-Headed Sinners a couple of days ago.

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    1. John thanks. I reckon you could get to all 40 but you might need to cut down on Gutenburg site visits! (I harbour delusions of reading my way through the 87th Precinct books also - that's 50-plus!)

      Junkie was a recommendation from you, which fills the gap I missed in Rich's Past Offences Crime meme - albeit 11-12 months late!

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  6. I've been meaning to try this writer. Which one do you recommend I start with?

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    1. Keishon from the few I have read, I'd say either THE SNATCH or THE VANISHED maybe. There are plenty of standalone books as well - BLUE LONESOME is quite well regarded I think.

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    2. Keishon - if you do give him a go, I hope you enjoy the book and his writing. I always feel slightly nervous, when giving people recommendations!

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  7. What a neat copy of the book what with the library check outs included. And glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Glen cheers - the next one is a mass market paperback - it doesn't have quite the same history I think!

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  8. Col, I'm absolutely curious about the Nameless series and I'll be making it a point to read a couple of them before the end of the year.

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    1. Prashant, I look forward to seeing what you think.

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