Review: Hoodwink by Bill Pronzini

Hoodwink is the inaugural winner of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel, it won the 1982 Shamus Award. This review is part of the Shamus Award Review series in which the books that have been nominated for the award from its inception to today are covered with reviews and further information that may be useful and interesting.

Book Details

Title: Hoodwink
Author: Bill Pronzini
Pages: 336
Published Date: 1981
Publisher: ​St Martins' Press
Series Details: Book 7 of the Nameless Detective series

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Publisher’s Synopsis

Former pulp writer and current hack Russell Dancer invites Nameless to the first annual Western Pulp Convention in San Francisco. He wants Nameless to help him locate the person who is trying to blackmail Dancer for a purported plagiarism of a story called "Hoodwink." Arriving at the convention, Nameless discovers that a group of former friends (and now uncomfortable colleagues) who wrote for the pulps called the "Pulpeteers" have all received blackmail notes. 

Nameless is in seventh heaven as he meets many of his favorite pulp writers, buys pulp novels for his collection and meets a stunning younger woman who is the daughter of two famous pulp writers. For once, Nameless has some luck with the ladies. But is Kerry Wade attracted to him, or to his job as a private eye? Is he really attracted to her, or to her connection to the pulps? 

The convention is unexpectedly disrupted when one of the guests is found dead in a locked room while Russell Dancer is holding a gun that's been recently fired. It looks like an obvious case of murder by Dancer, who has been feuding with the man. Dancer denies his guilt, and only Nameless is willing to believe him. As Nameless tracks down the guilty party, he finds himself faced with a second locked room mystery... and a target for a murderer.

Review of Hoodwink

Hoodwink is the 7th book in Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series.

This book picks up only months after the events of the previous novel, Labyrinth, took place. Our detective is packing up his office in preparations to relocate the business to a new neighborhood when pulp writer Russell Dancer walks in.

Russell Dancer made his first appearance in Undercurrent when his book The Dead and the Dying was found by Nameless at a murder scene.

Dancer wants Nameless to attend a pulp fiction convention that is being held in San Francisco in the coming days. He and five other pulp writers have all received a manuscript of a novelette entitled “Hoodwink” along with a letter claiming that he plagiarised the story to produce a movie manuscript under an assumed name.

The prospect of attending the pulp fiction convention appeals to Nameless immensely given his love of the genre. As he explains, his love of the pulps was reason why he became a private detective in the first place.

But the convention is rudely interrupted by the sudden death of one of the attendees. In classic pulp fiction style the death bears all the hallmarks of a locked-room mystery. While the finger of guilt is being pointed at one suspect, Nameless has his doubts.

Hoodwink was the winner of the first Shamus Award for Best PI Novel in 1982. (The other finalists were A Stab In the Dark by Lawrence Block, 30 For A Harry by Richard Hoyt, Hard Trade by Arthur Lyons and Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker).

Hoodwink is also a notable entry to the Nameless series because this is the book where he meets Kerry Wade. Kerry is the daughter of a couple of pulp fiction authors and is attending the convention to support them. Their attraction for one is immediate and, unlike his ex-partner Erika, Kerry loves the fact that Nameless collects pulp fiction and has pursued his passion by becoming a private detective.

You really get a good sense of just how passionate Bill Pronzini is about the pulps in this book. There was little doubt, I guess, but the passion with which he expresses Nameless’s love for the genre really comes through in this. There was definite pleasure on display when the detective walked into the hucksters room and was faced with numerous pulps for sale. (By the way, it appears that the detective may have had a brief encounter with Pronzini while attending the convention).

Our detective is developing a habit of experiencing an itch in the back of his mind whenever he is on the verge of solving crimes. It happened in the previous story, Labyrinth, and he goes through the same process here.

The moment he figures out how the locked room murder was committed, though, he is under tremendous pressure in a life or death showdown. Once again his mind has been able to click into overdrive and come up with the crucial links in the puzzle to put it all together.

Other Reviews

Reviewed at: In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

“Russell Dancer used to be a great writer of stories for pulp magazines. After he agrees to attend a convention in San Francisco, he receives an odd delivery – a blackmail threat over the plagiarism of a short story called “Hoodwink” that he knows nothing about. Neither do his fellow attendees, all of whom have received the same threat…” - Read Full Review

Reviewed at: Col’s Criminal Library

“Nameless crosses paths again with Russell Dancer, an alcoholic pulp-writer who we met in an earlier Nameless case. There’s a Pulp convention coming up and all the members of a writer’s group from years previously have been targeted by a blackmailer – ready to expose one of them for plagiarism…” - Read Full Review

Reviewed at: Justice For the Corpse

“In earlier decades, Russell Dancer was a well-known pulp writer. Today (i.e. around 1980 or so) he’s barely getting by, writing pseudonymous action novels when he’s not in a drunken stupor. When he invites the Nameless Detective* to a pulp convention, it’s not just because he knows Nameless collects the old magazines; someone has accused Dancer of plagiarism and threatened him with extortion…” - Read Full Review

Reviewed at: Beneath the Stains of Time

“The case opens with Pronzini's nameless gumshoe kicking back in his office chair with an old pulp magazine, deeply immersed in a story from an old acquaintance, Russell Dancer, a once popular wordsmith of pulp fiction who rapidly descended into hackdom after the pulp market collapsed, when that very same writer drops in on him bearing an invitation to a pulp convention that has a minor favor attached to it...” - Read Full Review Reviews

At the time of writing there are 20 reviews posted to the GoodReads website. You can read these reviews by visiting the GoodReads website.

Other Shamus Best PI Novel nominees - 1982