some poetry, politics & what have you

Monday, March 10, 2008

i just finished reading bill pronzini's nightcrawlers. it's one of the latest in his long-running series of nameless detective novels the first of which was published in 1971. i have read nine or ten earlier books in the series, including shackles, a story he references on occasion in subsequent books & a classic in the field. & the most claustrophobic (crime) story i've read & almost unbearably so. & without spoiling anyone's reading of that one, the shackles of the title are very literal. anyway, it turns out our nameless detective isn't all that nameless any more. his first name is bill

one way to distinguish a good (crime) novelist from a not so good one is to see how they make use of the book format. give both of them 300 pages, which nowadays isn't a whole lot. the not so good one needs all that space for one story, or in some cases part of one. that's it. the good one may easily fit two or three stories into that space. if they're ed mcbain they might also throw a potential novel away in a couple of lines within one of the stories of the novel at hand. in nightcrawlers pronzini doesn't go quite that far, but he keeps three good stories going simultaneously. one about a couple of queer-bashers, one about a partner in nameless' detective agency who goes missing & one about a dying old pulp writer. in the first two we get to know almost immediately who the guilty ones are. in the last one we don't even know there is a crime until the very end. as bill says in the book. "timing". pronzini is a master of timing. when to give what away. when to tighten the screws & when to loosen them. & how to do it. there's also an economy to the story-telling that i find enviable. & very rare in contemporary crime writing (& in narrative prose of any kind). there are others in the field whose language is more of a tangible delight, james crumley comes to mind, as does sara paretsky & denise mina & marcia muller, who also happens to be married to pronzini, but there's a rhythm to his language that is a rare & a precious thing. & not just in nightcrawlers, but in most of the other books by him i've read. which, if i haven't already said so, are well worth your while


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