Book: Boobytrap

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Boobytrap: A “Nameless Detective” Novel

Author: Bill Pronzini
Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers

Emotionally exhausted from the events surrounding his partner’s suicide, “Nameless” welcomes the chance for a quiet vacation that comes when San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Patrick Dixon proposes that the burnt-out detective drive Dixon’s wife and son to their summer cottage on a remote High Sierra lake. In exchange, “Nameless” will have a week’s free use of a neighboring cabin.

The same week, unknown to both the assistant D.A. and “Nameless,” also among the vacationers at Deep Mountain Lake is a recently paroled explosives expert, Donald Michael Latimer. The timing is not coincidental, for Latimer has meticulously devised a warped plan for revenge against the men who sent him to prison. His viciously ingenious boobytraps have already claimed the lives of two of his intended victims, and at Deep Mountain Lake he has lined up his next three targets: Pat Dixon, Dixon’s twelve-year-old son, and “Nameless” himself.


One of the great mysteries of the publishing world is why so many of the terrific “Nameless Detective” books by Bill Pronzini are out of print. At least three—Hardcase, Illusions, and a collection called Spadework—are available, however. And, luckily, Boobytrap has the same clipped, resonant dialogue (a cross between Chandler and David Mamet), the understated but gripping action scenes, and the offhand noir wisdom as the rest of the series, as the always unnamed but rarely outgunned San Francisco private detective accepts a free fishing vacation in a High Sierra cabin and finds himself part of the revenge scheme of a particularly crafty mad bomber. Unlike many series heroes, “Nameless” has aged realistically (“Almost sixty years old and as horny as a teenager,” says his ladyfriend), and the suicide of his partner in Illusions still troubles him. “In a way it was good, necessary that I would never forget: all that he was and all that he wasn’t were a lesson to me. That was why I’d kept his fishing gear, the one tangible piece of him. It was why I’d never get rid of it. And it was why I’d never use even a single item.” No wonder Pronzini has won Shamus Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers Association of America. —Dick Adler

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