THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE by Bill Pronzini
I read Bill Pronzini’s The Other Side of Silence in a single sitting. The book isn’t that outstanding because it’s a story that’s been told hundreds of times before. But the writer is simply at the top of his game and it was wonderful to see him in action. Everything Pronzini does in this novel reflects the craftsmanship he’s learned throughout his long career. Above all things, Pronzini is a storyteller and his focus is on people caught up in events that alter the fabric of their lives, or reveal something within them that they barely guessed was there.
His long-running Nameless Detective series has garnered him a lot of fans and a lot of awards. I like the first-person narrative he employs in those, but this book is written in third-person and felt like one of those old Gold Medal noir novels I remember so fondly.
I immediately felt sympathy for Rick Fallon, the novel’s main character. The guy had worked hard, done well, and still ended up in a loveless marriage and with a lost child. Pronzini could have written this character as a suicidal mess and I wouldn’t have felt as keenly for him. In fact, one of the contexts of the novel is that Fallon sets out to help a woman he rescues from a suicide attempt.
Casey Dunbar’s story is familiar as well. It’s in the newspapers and media far too often. Non-custodial parent takes off with child after bad divorce and disappears. That caught my attention at once, and I loved the fact that Fallon has the tools to set the woman’s world to rights.
However, Pronzini is a master at the twist game, and there are more than a few in this novel. Every time I thought I had things figured out, Pronzini changed things slightly, but just enough.
The way the author describes the desert is absolutely amazing. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen lots of pictures. Pronzini talks about the places with an intimacy that is great, but he uses it as a device to show the hollow places that Fallon and Casey have within them.
Once Fallon takes up the pursuit of Court Spicer, things get dangerous quickly. The bad guys in the book are well done, and they’re the type of guy that anyone walking the streets might bump into if they go into the places that Fallon haunts while looking for the missing child.
Readers looking for something more than a private eye tale might get disappointed in the repetition of Fallon’s visits to the various players in the “case,” but this is the kind of investigative work good police officers will tell you gets the job done day in and day out. I loved the feel of being there with Fallon, of watching him figure things out and step into danger.
I had most of the book figured out by the time I got to the end, but Pronzini can be a master of the endgame, and this one was one of his best. I was guessing till the last page.