Review: Undercurrent by Bill Pronzini

The 3rd book in the Nameless Detective series follows on from The Snatch and The Vanished and continues to develop the character of the San Francisco-based detective. He is alone by this point and is free to focus completely on whatever case comes along. I made a commitment to read all of the books in the series and while I am very happy that I did, this is not one of the strongest entries.

Book Details

Title : Undercurrent
Author : Bill Pronzini
ISBN : 978-0394482651
Pages : 213
Published Date : 1973
Publisher : Random House
Sub-Genre : Private Detective, Hardboiled
Main Characters : Nameless Detective

Undercurrent is available at

Publisher's Synopsis

​The Nameless detective is hired by a young wife to find out whether her husband has been having an affair. He trails the husband to a motel of cabins in a small village, sees him meet with a bald man and then return to his cabin. Hours later, Nameless realizes the cabin may have a backdoor; he investigates and finds the husband has been murdered!

Review of Undercurrent​

​The opening of Undercurrent almost sound apologetic, as if the nameless detective is trying to explain away the worth of the case he has agreed to take up.

​“It was one of those jobs you take on when things are very lean. You want to turn it down – it’s an old story, and a sordid one, and a sad one – but you know you can’t afford to. The rent falls due in a few days and the savings account is all but depleted; you haven’t worked in almost three weeks, and the boredom and the emptiness are beginning to take their toll. So you look into the tear-filmed gray eyes, and you sigh, and you say yes...


Judith Paige was the kind of girl they used to call “sweet” and “wholesome” without sniggering about it.”

​The job that the detective has been asked to take is to follow Paige’s husband when he leaves for what has become a regular business trip. She suspects the man of cheating on her and, indeed, he checks into a hotel on the California coast. However, rather than finding the man in the midst of an affair, the detective finds the man murdered in his room.

​The presence of a pulp fiction book, The Dead and the Dying by Russell Dancer, appears to be the only thing in the room that is out of place. A thin clue to follow but it’s the only thing the detective has got and so he follows it. As turns out, Dancer is a local of the area which makes it possible to track him down and interview him. Just one in a series of fairly marginal leads and characters who flit across our radar.

​In a very unusual circumstance the local chief of police allows Nameless into the investigation handing his access to most parts of the case. This opens up the possibilities somewhat and the forensic analysis indicate that there was, indeed, another woman involved with Walter before he died.

​The inclusion of the pulp fiction aspect of the story is germane particularly to the detective who is an avid collector. This part of the story appears, on the surface, to be a contrivance that doesn’t add a great deal to the plot. It does, however, further entrench the importance that Nameless places in pulp fiction. We already know that he bases his own work on the detectives in these novels and this just sinks the hook a little deeper. 

Unfortunately not a lot that happens to make me as a reader feel invested in the case or in the outcome. As he moves from one character to the next it feels as though little or no progress is being made with each interview turning up nothing of substance.

​When the mystery is solved it comes about in a unique and interesting way, but the solution is rather anticlimactic.

​Undercurrent serves to further establish the Nameless detective as a solid investigator who will work on his case until the bitter end. With this being the third outing we are starting to get a more complete picture of the man, his interests and the beliefs that drive him.

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.

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