Deaths among the homeless don't usually provoke background probes. But when a transient known as Spook (because "he had ghosts living inside his head") is shot outside the offices of a San Francisco film-industry supplier, employees there want to know why. "He didn't have a mean bone in his body," one staffer assures Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective in Spook. So was this just the random slaying of a street crazy, or had someone from Spook's unknown past--maybe Dot or Luke, the apparitions he was always jabbering to--finally come gunning for him?
In Nameless' 28th novel-length outing, but his first since the pivotal Bleeders (in which he almost hung up his gumshoes for good), Pronzini's classically wrought sleuth is preparing for semiretirement, turning over responsibilities to his young PI partner, Tamara Corbin. He's also breaking in a new investigator, reserved ex-cop and widower Jake Runyon, to whom he hands off the identity search--little knowing how quickly that case will turn ugly, linking the "gentle, friendly" Spook to the murder of another homeless man and a long-ago triple homicide in the California Sierras. Meanwhile, Nameless finishes up a high-profile dig into questionable practices among city employees. This secondary plot lacks the intrigue of Runyon's task; however, both investigations generate action, including a hostage situation and a not-so-merry chase during a Christmas benefit. More than two decades after this series' initial installment, The Snatch, Nameless's assignments have become less conventional, and he's been mellowed by age, marriage, and too much death. Yet, even at age 61, he's more vital than many newer, less deservedly cynical competitors. --J. Kingston Pierce