by Bill Pronzini
I’m not usually much of a mystery/noir fan – I enjoy mysteries set in fantasy worlds, or in urban fantasy, but not so much in noir, real-life settings. The cover of Femme caught my eye though, and since these were novellas, and short, I thought I’d branch out.
Not the best decision I’ve ever made.
Femme and Kinsmen are part of Pronzini’s “Nameless Detective” series. They’re told from the viewpoint of a P.I. who is never named. Femme was the first one I read, and I just felt like the story drug on. You wouldn’t think a 175 page book could be slow and still get through the plot, but this one was. The plot was fairly simplistic. Our unnamed protagonist is called in by a bail bondsman to find the brother of a femme fatale. When they find the brother, they discover the femme fatale is not exactly the caring sister she’s portrayed herself to be. Since it’s a novella, I can’t really say much more without ruining the surprise. Let’s just say that the ONLY reason I decided to go ahead and read Kinsmen was because of its connection to my hometown.
Kinsmen is the story of a boy and a girl from the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS! …sorry.) who go missing on their way down to southern California to see their families. I felt like the action moved a little quicker, but it may be that I just enjoyed seeing places I used to haunt being prowled by our unnamed hero. Unlike Femme, where I felt like people got their just desserts in the end (for the most part), in Kinsmen two young lovers are caught by small-town bigotry to a tragic end. Again, it’s a novella, so I won’t say much.
Unless you’re a mystery/noir fan, I probably wouldn’t recommend these. Yes, they’re quick reads, so you won’t waste much time on them, but it’s still time I could have spent reading far better things. If you do like these, apparently Pronzini has written novels in this series as well, so they’re not all so short and simplistic. Perhaps I would have enjoyed one of those better, but if the pacing is the same as these, I probably wouldn’t.
From the back of Femme:
Femme fatale. French for “deadly woman.”
You hear the term a lot these days, usually in connection with noir fiction and film noir. But they’re not just products of literature or film, the folklore of nearly every culture. They exist in modern society, too. The genuine femme fatales you hear about now and then are every bit as evil as the fictional variety. Yet what sets them apart is that they’re the failures, the ones who for one reason or another got caught. For every one of those, there must be several times as many who get away with their destructive crimes…
In the thirty years the Nameless Detective has been a private investigator, he has never once had the misfortune to cross paths with this type of seductress… but in Femme he’ll meet Cory Beckett, a deadly woman who has brought some new angles to the species. New—and terrible.
From the back of Kinsmen:
Allison Shay was traveling home from the University of Oregon with her new boyfriend, Rob Compton, when their car broke down near the tiny rural town of Creekside, California. Soon after, Allison and Rob went missing without a trace.
Whatever happened, it felt like something bad to the Nameless Detective. Five days without a whisper of contact with the outside world. Long past the inconsiderate-kids stage; long past the silly and the harmless.
Kinsmen takes Bill Pronzini’s classic private investigator to California’s northeast backwoods, where an isolated community is determined to keep a deep, dark secret: why Allison Shay and Rob Compton really vanished.
The real question facing the Nameless Detective: are they still alive?