Bill Pronzini

Nameless Detective - Private Investigator, San Francisco, California


(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale FEB 22, 2003)

Spook by Bill Pronzini
"Distilled, the facts amount to these: On Tuesday morning a homeless man in his mid-thirties, known only by the name Spook, had been found shot to death by an employee of Visuals, Inc. in one of their back-alley doorways. He carried no identification, no one seemed to know his real name, and a check of his fingerprints had turned up no match in any state or federal database. Officially he was a John Doe, the latest of more than a hundred and forty John and Jane Does to pass through the medical examiner's office this year.

There was no apparent motive for the shooting. Everyone seemed to agree that he'd been a harmless street person, mentally ill like many of the city's homeless--known as Spook because he had ghosts living inside his head with whom he held regular conversations--but gentle, friendly, nonagressive. Steve Taradash and his dozen employees had befriended Spook, given him small amounts of money, food, nonalcoholic drinks. One of the employees, a woman named Meg Lawton, described him as "a really sweet man who'd bring us presents sometimes, flowers and little things of no value. He didn't have a mean bone in his body. I just don't understand why anyone would want to kill him."

"Nameless" is back and life is good for him and for us. Pronzini had considered ending the series after Bleeders (2001), but after some convincing, decided to bring him back and now appears ready to re-energize the series.

This book is really a transition book for Pronzini as he begins the semi-retirement of "Nameless" with the impending promotion of Tamara Corbin to partner of their private detective agency and the hiring of Jake Runyon to assist them. As a result of the change in focus of the series, a significant portion of the book concerns the lives of "Nameless," Tamara, and Jake. Pronzini provides significant background and life complexities and challenges for Tamara and for Runyon that set the foundation for future books in the series.

Nameless, 61 years old, is now the father of ten year old Emily, whom he and his wife decided to adopt after the death of her parents in Bleeders. Emily is finally beginning to become comfortable in her new surroundings after the sudden loss of her parents. The story is presented during the Christmas season and Emily and the rest of the family share in the joy of the season.

Tamara, a new partner at only 25, must deal with the planned move of her live-in boyfriend to Philadelphia to be a cellist in the Symphony there. Her boyfriend proposes marriage in hopes that Tamara will leave her San Francisco job and go with him to Philadelphia. Tamara's father and sister "help" her with this difficult decision, one that she doesn't appear to handle very well.

Jake Runyon, a 42 year old former Seattle police detective, is new to the San Francisco area. With the recent death of his second wife, Runyon decides to move to the area to try to reconcile with the son of his also dead first wife, Andrea Fleming. She apparently was venomous in her hatred of Runyon, blaming him for all of her problems. This venom is in Runyon's son, Joshua Fleming, who attempts to keep Runyon out of his life, and the first meeting of Jake and his son does not go well.

The main part of this book concerns the investigation of the identity of "Spook," a homeless man who is murdered near the Visuals, Inc. building in San Francisco. Steve Taradash, the owner of Visuals, Inc., hires Nameless to determine the identify of the homeless man that many of the employees of Visual befriended. "Spook" was generally a nice man that everyone liked, and they called him "Spook" since he often appeared to be talking to people that weren't there and were only in Spook's mind.

"Nameless" decides to have the newly hired Jake Runyon do most of the field work, with Tamara doing most of the computer investigating. Nameless finds Runyon to be a hard working, but reserved, worker who still hasn't recovered from his wife's death. Through the work of all three of the investigators, progress is made in identifying the killer and some tense moments develop as the killer takes actions against the investigators.

In this change in focus of the "Nameless Detective" series, Pronzini now presents the story in both first and third person. The sections from "Nameless'" perspective are still in the first person, while are sections are told in third person from varying points of view, mostly either Jake or Tamara.

Spook is another outstanding book in this long-running series by Pronzini, now at 28 in novel form. If you've never read any of these books, this is really not a bad place to start as the series is in transition, and in a way, this is the first book of a new series. I suspect, though, that if you start here, you'll decide to go back to the beginning of the "Nameless Detective" series. The journey of finding and reading the books will be an enjoyable one.

Pronzini has a new contract with Tor/Forge to publish future "Nameless Detective" books in both hardback and paperback. He is currently writing the next book in the series, Nightcrawlers. He has said that he plans to write more "Nameless" books than he had in the recent past, although it may be until late 2004 before Nightcrawlers is published.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews

(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to

The Nameless Detective Mysteries

Stand Alone Mysteries:

The Westerns:The Gallows Land by Bill Pronzini


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)


(back to top)

Book Marks:


(back to top)

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