NEMESIS by Bill Pronzini
Nemesis is Bill Pronzini’s 38th Nameless novel, and it marks 35 years that the fictional private eye has been on the bookshelves and in the hearts of mystery lovers.
I read the first book, The Snatch, when it came out in paperback back in 1971. I was 13 years old at the time and I was disappointed that Nameless wasn’t as action-packed as Raymond Chandler, Lew Archer, and Travis McGee, but there was something endearing and enduring about the character. In the beginning I loved the mentions of the old pulps Nameless collected, which hardly gets mentioned at all these days, because I was reading my share of Doc Savage and The Shadow at the time too. I was still learning about those old magazines, and I soaked up every bit of knowledge I could.
As I grew older, though, I kept reading the Nameless books, still drawn to the character for shifting reasons. Strangely enough, I began to grow old enough to understand him and his world, and finally am old enough to truly appreciate all that he’s been through and all that he’s seen. Picking up a Nameless novel is like sitting down over coffee with a dear friend you seldom see (only once a year for the most part).
Nemesis comes on the heels of Hellbox, last year’s offering. A year has passed in the real world, but only months have passed for Nameless and Kerry and the rest of his crew. Everyone is still dealing with fallout from Kerry’s kidnapping.
This book strikes really close to home on several fronts. While Nameless and Kerry try to get back to some semblance of normality, Runyon is dealing with a fading romance and Tamara has an old lover easing back into her life. These ongoing problems (not resolved in this book) are part of what makes this series so organic. The characters feel like real people with real crises that leave them emotionally drained.
The main problem in this novel, though, is a client named Verity Daniels, who turns out to be one of the most twisted people Nameless has ever encountered. Runyon has dealings with her and discovers she’s lying about the blackmailer who’s supposedly hounding her, and Tamara’s cyber-sleuthing reveals that the woman has left a twisted trail of lies everywhere in her wake.
The case turns out to be all consuming, putting Runyon first in harm’s way, then the whole agency, which drags Nameless back into the center of the action.
I really enjoyed the way the novel is broken up into three parts, each telling a section from Runyon’s, Tamara’s, and finally Nameless’s point of view. All of these characters are human, complex and vulnerable, and Pronzini handles the story with expert craftsmanship. He still tells the story a lot, rather than showing it at times, but the prose is smooth and the pages turn so easily.
Nemesis is a great addition to the series, complex and absorbing, like watching a train wreck in slow motion because you know you can’t do anything to stop it. In the end, the adventure and puzzle are good, fairly delivered, and leave fans looking forward to the next book.