25.11.12

Bill Pronzini's Schemers


A former newspaper reporter, Bill Pronzini is an accomplished and prolific mystery writer. Four of his books have won Shamus awards for best private investigator novel. Pronzini has also received two lifetime achievement awards (the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award and The Private Eye Writers of America’s Eye Award) for the body of his mystery writing. Although Pronzini has written science fiction and Westerns, he is primarily a detective novelist. Hard-boiled mysteries are his specialty.

Like Ellery Queen, Pronzini and the mystery genre are synonymous. He is the editor of numerous mystery novels and owns an outstanding collection of pulp magazines, a passion of his. Married to detective novelist Marcia Muller (see my post on The Ever-Running Man), he occasionally collaborates on books with her. Pronzini’s own novels contain numerous allusions to famous mystery novels and the pulps.

His long-running Nameless Detective series began in 1971. The 34th novel in the series, Schemers, contains two parallel cases, one investigated by Nameless; the other, by Jake Runyon, his partner. Nameless examines a book collector’s claim that eight of his rare first-edition mysteries have been stolen. Jake Runyon investigates the stalking of two brothers and the desecration of their father’s grave.

The narrative about the book collector is an ingenious locked-room mystery – a subgenre that Pronzini has previously used. This story is about the collecting of rare, prized editions and, in fact, mystery novels themselves. “How refreshing it is,” observes Schantz and Schantz (2009), “to read a book about book collecting from a writer who truly knows his subject. Pronzini . . . is also an avid collector of mystery first editions, and he uses his expertise to good advantage in this locked-room puzzle set in the library of a wealthy book collector.”

Although Pronzini’s plots are clever, his depiction of series characters is particularly skillful. His characters evolve and change over time, a feature that is fairly uncommon in mystery series.

Bill Pronzini introduced us to the nameless detective back in the early 1970s. Wade (2009) reminds us:
Nearly 40 years later, he still ranks among the best of the private eyes. The secret of his success is no mystery: His creator has managed to keep him fresh and continually evolving, avoiding the rut that most long-running series characters fall into.
Even though Nameless changes, he never loses his everyman quality. By refusing to name this San Francisco detective, Pronzini universalizes him.

After reading Schemers, you will agree with Schantz and Schantz’s assessment of the novel: “Cleverly plotted, solidly written and authentically researched, it’s another winner from this Grandmaster” (2009). (2009).

Pronzini, Bill. Schemers. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2009.

Schantz, Tom and Enid Shantz. “Mystery.” Denver Post. April 5, 2009.

Wade, Robert. “The Room Is Locked, But ‘Schemers’ Can Still Get In.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. April 19, 2009.