Review: BLOWBACK by Bill Pronzini

When it began I thought the most annoying thing about my choice for this month’s Crimes of the Century read would be that its protagonist’s name is never provided. I’m prepared to accept that Ralph Ellison or Graham Greene might have been making a deep or existentially interesting point when choosing this particular literary device but in virtually every other instance I’ve encountered it I am underwhelmed. Here too I was soon rolling my eyes at the clunky way a fictional nameless chap is forced to wander through life being referred to vaguely. But, unfortunately, this was far from the most annoying thing about the book.

That was, without doubt, its central premise which is in summary, when a woman uses the allure of her vagina no man can be held accountable for his actions.

I know the book is 40 years old but I’m tired of making allowances for this mindset regardless of the era in which it is depicted. Because let’s face it the attitude has not been consigned to history’s dustbin.

So, story-wise at least, BLOWBACK was a dud for me. It is a quite convoluted tale set in northern California in which a nameless private investigator is asked by an old army buddy to attend his fishing camp. There is a woman there whose vagina is causing mayhem amongst all the people with penises (OK they’re not the exact words Harry uses to get his nameless friend involved but it’s what he means). There is a lot of flirting and innuendo, then a dead Persian rug dealer turns up. The resolution, you should not be surprised to discover, has nothing to do with carpets and everything to do with evil vaginas.

All of that said I should point out the highlight of the book which is our nameless hero. He is very well drawn despite his nameless existence. He seems very realistic and Pronzini does a great job of showing us how he is feeling during the series of precarious situations he encounters. The best example of this is that throughout the story he is awaiting news about whether a lesion on his lung is benign or not and the way he struggles with this is quite beautifully depicted. He’s a ‘blokey bloke’ and keeps his worries to himself but the first-person point of view allows us to get a sense of how daunting he is finding the whole experience of facing his own mortality in a different way than he must have done during his years in the army or police force.

Because of that I am on the fence about whether or not to give Pronzini another go as an author. Perhaps those of you familiar with his work can recommend something with less evil vaginas.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Doug Hamilton
Publisher This edition Speaking Volumes 2013, Original edition 1977
Length 5 hours 42 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #4 in the nameless detective series
Source of review copy I bought it

This entry was posted in Bill Pronzini, book review, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Review: BLOWBACK by Bill Pronzini

  1. tracybham says:

    I have read all of the Pronizini Nameless Detective novels up through #25, Boobytrap, which also happens to be set in a fishing camp. I actually consider that unusual (the setting) so just coincidental I guess. I probably read Blowback close to when it came out because I know I recommended Pronzini to my husband around the time we got married (which was 1980). I can remember the bookstore we were in. So actually I don’t remember much about this book. [My husband ended up loving the series and has a copy of every book.]

    I don’t know if Pronzini’s Nameless series is just not for you or if there are others you would like. The series changes a lot over time, he develops a relationship with a woman and she is very strong and her own person, and this relationship develops over many books. Later he adds people to his office and is less of a loner, but I haven’t really gotten into that portion of the series yet. But I enjoyed every one I read at the time, so can’t say if you would find one that would appeal. But you are right, the character is very well developed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that you can remember the bookstore you were in when you recommended an author to your husband Tracy. And thanks for the comments about where the series heads.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I agree with you, Bernadette, about Pronzini’s detective. He really is very well-developed as a character, and I like that about this series. I’m not crazy about the ‘evil vaginas’ thing, either. But, in my opinion, not all of the books in the series are like that. If you ever dip your toe in the Pronzini water again, I hope you’ll like it better.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John says:

    Evil vaginas! I roared at your over-the-top explanation of the noir/private eye novel femme fatale. I’m going to send it to Bill Pronzini. He’s sure to find it as funny as I did.

    Many mystery readers, especially private eye fans, would immediately recognize that “Nameless” is a homage to the unnamed private eye in Dashiell Hammett’s series about the Continental Op. Later in the Pronzini’s series we learn that his name is, unsurprisingly, Bill.

    Some recommendations if you’re willing to give him another go: DOUBLE in which “Nameless” meets up with Sharon McCone is a good one and also BONES the one about the murdered pulp story writer. I liked HOODWINK because it has a locked room element. SHACKLES is Pronzini’s personal favorite but it’s more of a suspense thriller with “Nameless”, sort of a homage to “The Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle. “Nameless” has been abducted and left chained in a cabin with only enough food for 13 days. How will he escape?

    Liked by 1 person

    • tracybham says:

      Shackles is the most memorable one I have read (and some of the books immediately following that one), but also very different from the rest of the books. I enjoyed the story arcs over several books, the relationships with Eberhardt and Kerry, and I find it hard to look back and remember which ones were my favorites. Also because I read them over a period of 40 years. I remember Bindlestiff because it was about hobos on trains, and Hoodwink because it was at a pulp convention and he meets Kerry.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the recommendations about other books in this series I might try John.

      I’m glad you see the humour in my over-the-top reaction here…I got an email that was much more offended than I anticipated anyone being. I knew I was being a bit unfair as the femme fatale trope is a well recognised one – one I happen to really hate and would normally avoid – it’s not really Pronzini’s fault I was ‘forced’ to read something I would normally avoid. I like participating in the Crimes of the Century challenge to read a book from the nominated year but it’s not actually that easy for me to get hold of eligible books in my little corner of the world so I sometimes read things there’s not much hope of me liking. Though in my defence this was a kind of extreme example of the reason I hate this kind of story…even the policeman towards the end thinks the wrong person ended up dead…implying that a woman who was flirting and/or sleeping around deserved to be murdered. That kind of thinking really does make my skin crawl.


  4. It’s always a question over how much you can let people off, isn’t it, I’m forever changing my mind, or at least doing a case-by-case decision. Talking to a friend about the past, a past in which her grandparents were part of a ruling class oppressing others, I did try to give the benefit of the doubt, but then she said ‘back then nobody knew it was wrong, nobody knew the results’. to which the answer was that my grandparents, the oppressed, had no problem knowing it was wrong. (Cleverer than the ruling classes…?)

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.