The Snatch is the first book in the series that became known as the Nameless Detective series. This long-running series of private detective books set in San Francisco and surrounding areas typifies the classical hardboiled crime novels.
The Snatch introduces the reader to a private detective who was once a policeman until he saw the results of one murder too many. As can be guessed by the moniker attached to the series, we are not given the detective's name and he is simply referred to by all fans as Nameless.
This case involves the kidnapping of a millionaire businessman's son who hires the detective to act as the bagman for the money drop. When things turn sour he stays on the case to try to solve the mystery surrounding the double cross while continuing to look for the missing boy.
Title: The Snatch
Author: Bill Pronzini
Pages: 170 pp
Published Date: 1971
Publisher: Random House
Main Characters: Nameless Detective
In his first chronicled adventure, the Nameless detective hires on to handle the ransom payoff in a kidnapping case. Financier Louis Martinetti doesn't trust the police to deal with the man who snatched his 9-year-old son from his military prep school, nor is it clear that he trusts the members of his own household. On the appointed evening, Nameless takes a briefcase that contains $300,000 in cash to a secluded location chosen by the kidnapper. Then all hell breaks loose.
My Review of The Snatch
We meet the Nameless detective as he is walking up the driveway of an impressive mansion where he is to meet with two men. While he is moving towards the front door of the house he gives us an exhaustive description of his surroundings which essentially serves to confirm that here is a guy who takes in everything around him.
Louis Martinetti: tall, granite-hewn, hair and eyes the color of steel, nose strong and wide, the nostrils in a perpetual flare. He was forty-five, if you believed the newspapers, and from a distance he looked maybe ten years younger; you could almost feel the magnetism if the man reaching out at you across the room and I was oddly reminded of an old pulp-magazine hero of the thirties and forties named Doc Savage.
Allan Channing was similarly dressed, but perhaps as sharp a physical contrast to Martinetti as you could imagine. He was big but not fat, with fine thinning hair the color, or non-color, of dust. He had pink cheeks and a soft mouth, and no particular magnetism at all. His eyes were wide and blue and innocent, containing the earnest guilelessness of an inquisitive child.
Both men are self-made millionaires. In the words of Nameless:
they are speculators, angle boys, long-shot and sure-shot gamblers, wheelers and dealers.
The job that is presented to Nameless by the two men appears simple enough.
Martinetti’s son has been kidnapped from his school and unless Martinetti pays a specified sum of money his son’s body will be dumped in the bay. Martinetti has turned to Nameless rather than involve the police. He doesn’t want the detective to investigate the kidnapping but rather, to perform the money drop.
This series was come to be known as the Nameless Detective series because of the omission by Pronzini to supply the reader with a name for his detective through the first four books. There is a little bit of creativity that goes into ways of avoiding the question of his name such as the use of a pet name by his girlfriend, etc. It’s a funny thing but I found myself a little surprised that by the time I got to the end of the book I hadn’t really noticed the fact that his name was not mentioned.
By the same token, there is much to learn about Nameless and what makes him tick. The racking cough and failed commitment to give up the cigarettes causing it is merely one example of his fallibility. Another is pointed out in no uncertain terms to Nameless by his girlfriend and this particular “sin” drives straight to the heart of what makes him such a good detective.
There is a brief insight into the background of our detective and how he came to be working as a private detective. As with many detectives he was originally a police officer and had been dedicated to his job. Nameless stuck it out on the police force for 15 years because he believed that the prevention of crime and the interests of justice and the law are of vital and immediate concern. It is a belief that still holds true now that he is a private detective.
Nameless got out of the police force after walking into a house one day to find it covered with blood and a man sitting in the room with a double-edged woodsman’s axe. The scene was too much for him and he says that he could no longer erect the mental defenses required to go back and do the things a cop has to do.
If ever there is a sentence that prepares the reader for some type of disaster it is something like the following: “Except for a few minutes alone in the darkness with three hundred thousand dollars, it would be a cakewalk for me; as long as nothing went wrong , it did not seem to be worth anywhere near the fifteen hundred dollars I was getting for it.” So it is not surprising that the job is far from the cakewalk that is anticipated.
Nameless is based in San Francisco, he is a smoker although the wracking coughs he endures with each cigarette are begging him to reconsider. He is also a collector of pulp magazines and has an impressive collection displayed carefully on the wall of his apartment. Significantly, it would be his love of the pulp fiction genre that would provide him with an important insight in solving a big mystery in this first case.
Another factor that marks this first book in the series is his relationship with Erika Coates. Their relationship is heading for the rocks and the reasons are twofold. The first is his obsession with pulp fiction and the second is his profession. The problem is that Nameless is very happy pursuing both and if he were to be pushed to decide between Erika or his real lifelong passion it looks as though the relationship is the thing that will have to give.
Find out more about the Nameless Detective series and find details about all of the Bill Pronzini books that are listed in order by visiting the Bill Pronzini author page.
This book is the first book in the Nameless Detective series. The second book in the series is titled The Vanished.