Bill Pronzini

"Step to the Graveyard Easy"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JAN 29, 2003)

Step to the Graveyard Easy
In this relatively short standalone novel, Bill Pronzini presents a story about Matthew Cape, a Rockford, Illinois man who is searching for something new in his life. Cape spent 12 years married to the same woman, working as a salesman for a manufacturer of industrial valves, before deciding to give it all up for a life as a drifter and part-time gambler. Cape cashes in half of his and his wife's savings for traveling and gambling money and a 1991 yellow and black Corvette. Pronzini presents Cape as a restless and reckless, yet honest man, who manages to run into trouble a few times along the way.

In San Francisco, Cape joins a friendly poker game only to find that the game organizer, Boone Judson, posing as a conventioneer, is just a dishonest grifter out to steal his money. Ultimately, Cape is successful in getting his money back from the grifter and his female companion. While getting his money, Cape also discovers some photographs that leads him to some more trouble in Lake Tahoe. In Tahoe, Cape finds that two of the people in the pictures are Andrew and Stacy Vanowen, a wealthy couple that the grifter appears to be after for some unknown reason. Cape's initial meeting with these two shows some of Pronzini's excellent ability in conveying vivid images of people in just a few sentences:

"She smiled faintly, looked out through the tall window on her right. A slant of sunshine lay across that side of her face, along her bare shoulder and arm. On the lake, on the glass, the sunlight glittered hotly. On her it seemed cooler, a paler shade, like light rays on sculptured white marble. Reach over and touch her, and she'd have a marble feel - cool, smooth, surface-soft. The type of woman who would never sweat, even when she was making love."

About Andrew Vanowen:

"He was like something made of bone and tightly strung wire, covered with tanned rawhide and powered by a generator tuned so high you could hear it hum and crackle. He attacked his crab cocktail as if were his enemy."

Of course, Pronzini is also excellent in writing dialogue, and tells much of the story this way.

Cape's involvement with the grifter, the Vanowens and others in Lake Tahoe lead to some very exciting and suspenseful moments. However, Pronzini puts Cape in, and gets him out of, situations in a way that are not realistic for a former salesman. Cape acts more as an experienced private investigator such as Pronzini's Nameless private detective, not as a mid-30's man who has spent the last 12 years of his life as a salesman. A salesman is unlikely to know some of the private investigator techniques Cape uses in finding people, investigating murders, etc. Nonetheless, the book is well written and enjoyable.

For the past nine years, starting with With an Extreme Burning in 1994 (reissued in paperback as The Tormentor in 2000), Pronzini has been alternating stand-alone novels with his more well known Nameless series novels. The peak of this period is arguably the Edgar nominated A Wasteland of Strangers, although the haunting Blue Lonesome has stayed with me the most and is my favorite of this period and probably of all the Pronzini stand-alone novels. (I've read all of the novels he has issued under his name or his known pseudonyms.)

The majority of these recent novels which have been referred to as "noir thrillers" feature individuals struggling to find themselves or to fit into society. Step to the Graveyard Easy is the weakest of these thrillers since With an Extreme Burning, but it is still a well written, exciting book that becomes most satisfying when all things come together at the end of the book.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

The Nameless Detective Mysteries

Stand Alone Mysteries:

The Westerns:


Originally written as Jack Foxx

Written as Alex Saxon:

  • A Run in Diamonds (1973) (included in Carmody's Run)

Written with Barry N Malzberg:

Written with Jack Anderson

Written with Jeffrey M. Wallman:

Written with John Lutz:

Written with Marcia Muller:

Limited Edition Printing:

  • A Killing in Xanadu:A Nameless Short Story (1980)
  • Cat's Paw (1983)
  • Season of Sharing (2001) (Nameless/Sharon McCone short story written with Marcia Muller)


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Bill PronziniBill Pronzini was born in California in 1943 and has been resident in that state for much of his life, although in his 20's he lived in Furstenfeldbruck, Germany and Majorca. As a boy he was a voracious reader.

Bill has been a full-time professional writer since 1969 and is a one of the most prolific writers having published well over 50 novels. He writes mysteries, short stories, westerns and edits anthologies. He was the first president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

His work has been translated into eighteen languages and published in nearly thirty countries. He has received three Shamus awards and the Lifetime Achievement Award (presented in 1987) from the Private Eye Writers of America; and six nominations for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award. His novel Snowbound was the recipient of the Grand Prix de la Literature Policiere as the best crime novel published in France in 1988. And his novel A Wasteland of Strangers was nominated for the best crime novel of 1997 by both the Mystery Writers of America and the International Crime Writers Association.

Bill and his wife, novelist Marcia Muller, live in Petaluma, California. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014