The Endgame of an Era

Me and the Nameless Detective go way back. I’ve been reading these books since, oh wow, probably 1983? My Lord, that’s a long time.

I was never a mystery/suspense/noir reader in my youth. Science fiction, mostly, and what horror there was to be found. Which, honestly, wasn’t very much. SF won most of my reading time by default.

Yet by the early eighties I was getting very tired of the weary clichés of science fiction. Retreads of Roddenberry and Lucas, and even things that bore a closer resemblance to Tolkien than Asimov were littering the science fiction shelves in bookstores. Luckily for me the horror genre was exploding at the time, and I happily immersed myself in it.

I read the available Kings, the Straub books, Charles Grant, Ramsey Campbell, etc. Even with the wealth of fright fiction coming out, I still would have to search for new things to read. I’d do this most often in used bookstores. I looked in the horror sections, and I gradually began making my way to the mystery and suspense shelves. I still wasn’t interested in private eye fiction, but a lot of suspense is first cousin to horror. If I saw a good science fiction author writing horror or dark suspense, these books went straight to the head of the line.

The Running of BeastsWhile browsing one day I saw a book called The Running of Beasts. It looked like the story of a killer, and one of the two authors was named Barry N. Malzberg. Malzberg’s name carried a lot of weight with me, after having had my socks knocked off by his wild science fiction books, such as Beyond Apollo and Herovit’s World. No Star Trek/Wars clones here. This was blazing, revolutionary science fiction.

The other author of The Running of Beasts was a guy named Bill Pronzini. I didn’t know who that was. Probably some mook skirting on Malzberg’s coattails, I reckoned. But I bought the book, used, and I read it. And I liked it very, very much. I was gratified to learn that Malzberg and Pronzini had collaborated on some other books. A couple more thrillers, Night Screams and Acts of Mercy, as well as a bizarre science fiction satire called Prose Bowl. I enjoyed them all, and looking back I take note that The Running of Beasts and Night Screams were both well ahead of their time. There weren’t a lot of serial killer books in that pre-Hannibal Lecter day.

UndercurrentStill later, looking through the mystery section of my favorite used bookstore, I saw a solo title by Pronzini. It was called Undercurrent. Hmm, a detective story. Well, why not? I’d read some thrillers that served as police procedurals, so I figured I’d give it a shot. How little did I know that, right there, my reading life would never be the same again.

I began Undercurrent, and I immediately saw that the author was employing a narrative hook with the story. The private eye detective was not named at all in it. I was down with that. I slid into the novel.

I also noticed right away that this unnamed detective wasn’t your typical garden variety cliché dick. He wasn’t cocky, a drunk, a womanizer, or trigger happy. No, Nameless, as I already began thinking of him, was thoughtful, decent, down to earth, fallible. Undercurrent was and is a good book, and I bookmarked the name, Bill Pronzini, as another new writer for me to look for. I never really thought of him as a mook, you know.

The SnatchSoon after I read an earlier Nameless book, The Vanished. Then another called The Snatch. I liked them all. And then I read one called Blowback, which I absolutely loved. Then I read my first stand-alone Pronzini, Snowbound. That sealed it. Bill Pronzini was now one of my favorite writers.

I liked everything Bill published, and the man was always as prolific as he was generically diverse. He could write noir as good as anyone else in the biz, he did westerns, horror. Thrillers and short stories, too. I began noticing Bill’s stories in Charles L. Grant anthologies.

So it was. As I said, I liked it all, but the Nameless Detective stories were special. Every year or so, sometimes a little more often, sometimes a little less, I could look forward to a new Nameless book. Unlike so many other long-running characters in books, Nameless never grew tedious, and Bill never seemed to run out of steam.

Not only did the books not run out of steam, they continued to get better. Richer in detail, in plot, in emotional depth. I was often as interested in the specifics of the private life of Nameless as I was in the crime elements of each book. Sometimes even more so.

I knew that I loved the series, the characters, the author, but still. All too often we don’t really appreciate how much we love and need something until it is gone.

EndgameThe latest Nameless Detective novel is appropriately called Endgame. It is, I am heartbroken to report, the last one we will see (barring a miracle, of course). I’m pretty sure that if enough money were dangled in Bill’s face, we might see good old Nameless again. That, unfortunately, isn’t likely to happen.

Decades of reading. Hours upon hours of thrills, laughs, joy with the books in my hands. I feel kind of like I did on that terrible morning when I heard that John Lennon had been shot dead.

Am I overreacting over a fictional character? Probably, but for those of us who live for books and writing, maybe it isn’t so crazy. Didn’t fans mourn Sherlock Holmes and hound Doyle into bringing the great detective back? People not only enjoy superheroes and science fiction characters, but identify with them so deeply that they dress up as them.

Mark Sieber's signed copy of EndgameYeah, I find it heartbreaking, and I was deeply depressed last night after finishing Endgame and asking Bill about it. Yes, I talk to the author now and then, and he has flattered me by telling me that I am his biggest fan. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am.

Now, today, it’s a new day. A world where I will never see another Nameless Detective story. I hate that, but I am attempting to look at it in a positive way. First and foremost: Bill Pronzini is still with us, alive and well. He isn’t retiring and there will be more books from him. He was able to bring the series to a conclusion with grace and aplomb. All the necessary strings have been tied. I’d rather see this than have the books just stop with no resolution.

It’s been a great ride, and I feel that it has been one of the great privileges of my life to have been along for it. And I still have the books to reread. I’m getting to the age when I am doing a lot of rereading. I’ve read a lot of books in my life, and going back to re-experience them is wonderful.

Then there are those who either haven’t read the Nameless books, or have fallen behind on the series.

RevenantOne question I am usually asked when this comes up is, how necessary is it to start the Nameless Detective series in order? Well, that’s a damned good question. Of course it is always best to start at the beginning, but I don’t really think it is necessary with this series. I’d say to grab one and go for it. Blowback is a great, early place to jump on board. Cemetery Dance Publications, always the standard for quality genre fiction, has published a few Nameless novellas. Two of them are out of print, but one called Revenant is still available.

Just grab one and hold on for the ride. I’ve never been disappointed in any of the books, and in fact the Nameless series has just about been the greatest, most important and profound, reading experience of my life. Bill, and Nameless, are simply the best.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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