Review: Blowback by Bill Pronzini

Book number 4 in the Nameless Detective series appeared 4 years after the previous entry, Undercurrent, and the health of the detective is a serious issue. For those who have read the earlier three books they would be aware that he has been hampered by a wracking cough brought on from years of smoking. It is all brought to a head with the revelation that there is a lesion on one of his lungs.

The result is a reassessment by the detective on his life and the way it could and should be spent. It also gives him the impetus to help out a friend in a lakeside location in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Book Details

Title : Blowback
Author : Bill Pronzini
ISBN : 978-0394407937
Pages : 149 pp
Published Date : 1977
Publisher : Random House
Sub-Genre : Private Detective, Hardboiled
Main Characters : Nameless Detective

Blowback is available at

Publisher's Synopsis

He's just gotten some bad news, and its impact has made him immobile and fearful. He's always known that the racking cough was not just something that was going to go away, that the ache in his chest was indicative of something more serious. And now he's found out that he has a lesion on his lung which could be malignant. He's set to sit and wait and do nothing else until he gets the results, but is swayed into action by a call from an old buddy of his from the service, Harry Burroughs.

Harry has an isolated fishing camp in Northern California. Currently, he has several people in residence. Recent events have convinced him that the place is a powderkeg waiting to erupt into violence. Therefore, the call to Nameless.

What Nameless finds on his arrival is a simmering situation, mostly caused by the presence of a very erotic woman by the name of Angela who is there with her extremely jealous husband, Ray, who is even more combustible because he's a heavy drinker. Angela is a woman who plays sweet but gets deep underneath a man's skin and is nowhere near as innocent as she would have folks believe.

And then the murders start. The first doesn't seem to have anything to do with the situation when a rug dealer is killed in his van. But then the inhabitants of the camp become targets, including Nameless. He faces more than the usual share of danger as he is entombed in a cave. The book has a little bit of everything sexual intrigue, theft, murder, violence all leavened by Nameless searching for the truth in a high tension environment.​

Review of Blowback

The 4th book in the series is the one where the nameless detective finally quits cigarettes. He has been waiting to hear about the lesions on his lungs and whether they are cancerous and gives up the smokes cold turkey.

​At first he takes a pragmatic approach to the possibility that the lesion on his lung could be a big problem:

“There was no sense in worrying myself, just as the doctor advised. It would not help matters, it would not change matters. The lesion on my lung was malignant or it was not malignant. I had cancer or I did not have cancer. Simple.”

Just as he is given the uncertain news of the lesion he is contacted by an old friend who runs a fishing camp on the lake in the Sierra Nevada. He asks Nameless to come up to help him out with a potential situation.

After giving it some careful thought he agrees to the trip because, contrary to his earlier acceptance of the possibility that he might be really sick, the truth of his feelings soon become clear.

“Besides, I was in a sorry mental state right now and I needed an activity, a place and a direction to concentrate my sensibilities. I had always been motivated by my work, and it was a tried and true antidote for self-pity and depression. So was fishing for lake bass and reliving some good moments of the past with an old friend.”

The result is a trip to the lake and the cabins that are owned by a friend of his. The cabins are fully booked but the owner is concerned that the tenants are not getting along and needs someone to smooth the waters.

The source of the tensions on the lake appears to come from a husband and wife couple. The wife is beautiful and a definite temptation to some of the other residents. The husband is jealous and when he drinks is prone to violence. Everything is set up to explode and when the detective arrives on the scene the tension in the air is palpable.

As if on cue, the idyllic location is rocked with a violent death but it comes from a direction other than the expected one. It involves an incongruous scenario connected oddly enough to Oriental Rug thieves. While this, at first, appears to be a bit of a digression from the main storyline it nicely ties in with the people staying at the fishing camp.

This is a well-constructed story that brings together a mismatched range of characters all of whom have the capability for mischief. When the murders inevitably start taking place the story takes on a classic whodunit feel with the knowledge that one of the people we’ve been introduced to is a murderer. Pronzini controls the plot nicely and paces us evenly through to the end.

This is the book that I really felt I began to understand the detective as a real character. He is alone and lonely, clearly afraid for his life with the impending results of the tests on his lungs and the inner monologues share tremendous insight and emotion.

It is for this reason that Blowback is an important episode in the Nameless story and it feels as though his character is being set up for the series entries that are to follow.

You can get more information about the Nameless Detective and find a listing of all of the Bill Pronzini books in order by visiting the Bill Pronzini author page.

Follow the link above to find the entire Bill Pronzini books in order or you can read more reviews here.