Hellbox (Nameless Detective Mysteries)
by Bill Pronzini
Cover Artist: Shutterstock
Review by Cathy Green
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765325655
Date: 03 July 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
After the events in Camouflage, it looks as if the Nameless Detective finally is serious about reducing his hours and finding a second home in the country where he and Kerry can get away from it all. Hellbox, the 37th Nameless Detective book opens with Bill and Kerry spending some time in the Sierra foothills in the cabin they are thinking of buying, in order to see if a place in a small town in a rural area is really what they want. Unfortunately, their vacation from the big city turns out to be not so restful.
In the novel, Pronzini harks back to an earlier novel in the series, Shackles, except that Hellbox is the distaff version, and in keeping with the more recent novels in the series, there are viewpoint chapters for a considerably larger number of characters. The mystery in this case is not whodunnit. The reader learns at the start of the book that one of the locals, a not particularly nice man name Pete Balfour, decides to avenge his humiliation by another local resident, Ned Verriker, by blowing up Verriker's house, along with Ned and Alice Verriker, in a way that would look accidental.
Unfortunately, in a case of spectacularly bad timing, Kerry decides to go for a walk and passes by on the road near the Verriker place just as Balfour returns to his truck after having rigged the Verriker's house. Balfour's response is to knock her out and keep her tied up in his tool shed until he figures out what to do with her. Thus, the central mystery is whether Nameless will figure out what happened to Kerry and find her before Balfour decides to dispose of her in a permanent manner.
Hellbox switches between four viewpoints -- Nameless, Kerry, Jake Runyon, and Pete Balfour. This is not particularly confusing, as Pronzini puts Kerry's, Jake's and Pete's names at the top of their chapters. He does not put a name atop Nameless's viewpoint chapters, which makes sense since Nameless is, after all, nameless, and is also the star of all the books in the series. Given that Kerry has, for all practical purposes, been abducted by a random stranger, finding her is not going to be easy for Nameless. In fact, local law enforcement is inclined to believe that Kerry is simply a city girl who got herself lost and thus to be dismissive of Nameless's concerns. Meanwhile, Pete Balfour becomes increasingly unhinged and Kerry tries to find a way to escape while doing her best not to lose hope that Nameless will find her.
While Hellbox works as a stand alone novel, since Pronzini gives the reader all the necessary background information, this is probably not the best place in the series to start as a new reader. It is also unlike most of the Nameless books in that it is a departure from the police procedural style of most of the Nameless books. Pronzini effortlessly moves from one character's head to another while ratcheting up the suspense with each chapter. Another solid entry in the Nameless Detective series.