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BILL PRONZINI (b. 1943)

When the Private Eye Writers of America voted Bill Pronzini their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, he was a mere stripling of forty-four-an age when most writers of the form are still learning. But Pronzini had already done just about everything the category offers, and done it remarkably well.

Pronzini, born in Petaluma, California, is the son of a farm labourer. He began writing for the «Petaluma newspaper» at fourteen, attended a junior college, and began writing short stories for mystery magazines. In 1971, he published «The Snatch, «in which he introduced Nameless, a soft-hearted, middle-aged, overweight, and sloppy private eye endowed with all those problems that beset normal man. Thus began Pronzini's most notable (though certainly not his only) contribution to the detective form.

The Nameless series follows the ordinary-man private-eye formula already established by earlier writers, but with a notable difference. Pronzini has said that he modelled Nameless after himself, having him read and collect pulp magazines, smoke too much, worry about his health, and so on. As a result, the protagonist's believable relationship with his police-detective best friend, his wit, his weakness for puns, and his tendency to make mistakes take the books to a level of realism concerning character that is rarely attained in a genre where plot has long been the name of the game.

In addition to creating Nameless, Pronzini has penned myriad short stories, many written under pseudonyms, and produced literary criticism that has earned him a well-deserved reputation as an expert on popular literature, including Westerns. His personable nature and sense of humour are reflected in his «Gun in Cheek» and «Son of Gun» in Cheek anthologies, which bring together examples of prose so overdone that it becomes hilarious. Pronzini is known as one of the truly great collaborators and is equally at home coediting anthologies and co-authoring novels and even short stories. Critics agree that some of his best collaborations are the ones written with his wife, Marcia Muller.

Short-short stories, which often depend on an ironic punch line, are notoriously tough to write. "Words Do Not a Book Make" demonstrates Pronzini's craftsmanship-as well as his penchant for puns.


BIANCA DICAMPO | The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories | Words Do Not a Book Make







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