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“Camouflage” by Bill Pronzini

“One truism in the detective business: people’s exteriors don’t always reflect their interiors. Some of the most attractive ones are like buildings full of dark rooms and the kinds of things that hide in them.”

In the latest installment of Pronzini’s Nameless Detective Series (which includes 35 novels and three collections of short cases), Nameless’ Private Investigation Agency gets a client named David Virden, a great, upstanding, sexist, greedy, egotistical man who wants them to track down his first ex-wife, Roxanne.  Since successfully getting annulments from wives #2 and 3, she’s the last one he needs an annulment from so he can properly marry (very rich) new lady #4 in the Catholic Church.

Tamara, the newly promoted leader of the firm, is able to track her current whereabouts down just two hours. Nameless visits the dog boarding kennel which she now operates to hand her the annulment papers, she refuses to sign them, Nameless quickly gets out of the kennel and away from the cold, murderous gaze of their supposedly “well-trained” Rottweiler, and lets his client know what happened. Only Virden isn’t happy with the “she refused to sign it, we did the best we could” speech, gets the address himself, and goes to try his luck at talking her into it. Only one problem. That isn’t his wife. Or so he angrily tells Tamara over the phone on Tuesday. By Thursday, they now have a new client: Virden’s fiancée reporting him missing. Exactly what have they gotten themselves into?

In the meantime, another operative from the agency is going through a more personal matter.  His girlfriend has joint custody of her son from a previous marriage: one that allows her to only see him every other weekend. And every time he comes over, he’s covered in bruises, cuts, has pulled himself into a protective shell, and finally, one broken arm. Both suspect abuse, but it’s going to be difficult to do much about it when the ex-husband is a highly influential lawyer in the city. So Jake digs around for information: and the more information he finds, the more mysterious and dangerous it gets.

I loved the Nameless character from the very beginning- he’s a straight-forward, no-nonsense, no-bullshit, semi-retired detective, and reminded me a whole lot of my Dad (who was a straight-forward, no-nonsense, no-bullshit, semi-retired teacher).

Since this is part of a well-established series, there are references to some past plot points, but Pronzini briefs you on them well enough so that you don’t miss anything (unlike some other books and authors I know *cough* Fadeaway Girls by Martha Grimes *cough*)

And by the way- by this book- he’s not Nameless anymore. His name’s Bill. I did a little research and read that Pronzini chose to give Detective a name because he’s no longer a lone wolf. His detective agency has expanded.  He’s also named Bill because “incidentally, Bill Pronzini has always said that when he imagines the Nameless Detective, he sees Bill Pronzini.

Sometimes the author’s own viewpoints about religion and politics just slip in there (for example, one of the characters starts talking about listening to “right-wing hate radio” and “Limbaugh, Beck, the rest of them- a pack of greed-driven racist hate mongers hiding behind the cloak of patriotism”). He seems, actually, to do this quite frequently.

I found it interesting during the story to see the difference between private investigators and the police: private investigator’s stop investigating as soon as they stop getting paid from the client- no matter what leads and follow ups may tempt them.

Pronzini’s writing style throughout the whole novel is flowing, witty, and entertaining. There’s always a slew of interesting situations and even more interesting characters. One even said “Balls!” when she got upset. Which amused me since it’s a girl around my age saying it, and I could see that being my reaction as well. That’s what you get. A really entertaining, believable novel.  It’s like you want to leave the bar, but Pronzini keeps buying you drinks to keep you there- and my god are these drinks delicious!

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