Hellbox by Bill Pronzini
In the publishing game, one of the great imponderables for an author is how to preserve the cash flow when the major publishing houses are reluctant to depart from their usual production schedule, i.e. one hardback original every year with mass market paperbacks filling in the gaps as and when the publishers have maximised their take from the higher units costs of the hardback. The answer as demonstrated by Bill Pronzini is to keep switching genres, write with other authors as a team, and adopt pseudonyms. That way, you can keep the flow of books coming thick and fast. For those of you who like numbers, this is the thirty-ninth novel in the series featuring Bill, the Nameless Detective. Not bad really since we’re not also counting the multiple short stories.
Hellbox (Tor-Forge, 2012), the latest contribution, sees the hero’s desire to migrate slowly from activity to the inactivity of retirement interrupted. Nameless and Kerry are looking for a second home. This is not a retirement home as such, but one that’s far enough away from the office Bill might actually start giving up his desire to work. They settle on a cabin just outside Six Pines: one of these small towns up in the Sierra foothills. To get a feel for the location and the people of the area, they rent the cabin for a few days. Unfortunately, this puts Kerry in the wrong place at the wrong time as she goes walking around the forest to get her bearings. This takes us into a kidnapping situation. A killer on a revenge mission keeps the witness on ice until he can complete the job. This gives Nameless and Jake Runyon time to start running a search on the ground. Tamara works from the office, digging out information from computer records and our seasoned pros get on the trail.
With the point of view shifting between the killer, Kerry, Nameless and Jake, we get to see all sides of this problem and how it may be solved. The result is a solid, entertaining read. It has no pretensions. The prose is slick and highly readable. The narrative is stripped down to its essentials so we positively charge through the plot as our killer’s ambition for revenge escalates. It all comes down to Jake asking the right questions. Bill’s emotions are getting in the way and he’s not at his best. The result is a highly professional PI novel with the detective having a very personal stake in the outcome. I find it slightly unoriginal and a little flat, but Hellbox is a good way of continuing the story of the Nameless Detective, his wife and the other characters.
For a review of another novel by Bill Pronzini, see Camouflage.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.