Cover image for Crazy bone : a "nameless detective" novel
Title:
Crazy bone : a "nameless detective" novel
Author:
Pronzini, Bill.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
197 pages : 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780786707300
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Posh and affluent, a mecca for the horsy set, the California community of Greenwood hides its dirty laundry behind the stuccoed facades of Spanish-style houses and locks its secrets inside wrought-iron gates. Nameless knows that as well as 7 any, but he uncovers more deceit, adultery, fraud, and betrayal -- not to mention larceny and murder -- than he might have expected in this tautly concocted novel of crime and detection.Yet, even before Nameless visits the handsomely appointed offices of the blond, tanned insurance agent Rich Twining and the estate of the recently widowed Sheila Hunter, his private investigator's suspicions are raised. For why would anyone, however rich and beautiful and bereaved, refuse to claim fifty thousand dollars due in life insurance? The question is simple enough, but the answer lies several murders, many miles, ten years, a devious name game, and one baffling clue -- crazybone -- away.As always, Nameless proves himself the thinking man's detective (Chicago Sun-Times), and his creator, Bill Pronzini, keeps the suspenseful pages turning up to this uncanny novel's moment of revelation.


Author Notes

Bill Pronzini was born in Petaluma, California on April 13, 1943. His first novel, The Stalker, was published in 1971. He is best known for his creation of the Nameless Detective Mystery series, as well as several westerns and novels of dark suspense. He has been a full time writer since 1969. He is also an active anthologist, having compiled more than 100 collections, most of which focus on mystery, western, and science fiction short stories.

He has won numerous awards including three Shamus Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Mystery Writers of America. His book Snowbound received the Grand Prix de la Litterature Policiere, as the best crime novel published in France in 1988. Pronzini has established himself as a master of the Western novel as well as earning a name for himself in the dark fiction genre.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Jack Hunter, a young computer consultant living in the upscale Northern California town of Greenwood, dies tragically in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. The 50 thousand dollar life-insurance claim is inexplicably refused by Sheila Hunter, the widow. The insurance company, hoping to cash in on a PR bonanza by "always honoring our claims," hires San Francisco's "Nameless" detective to follow up. Nameless learns that the Hunter family appeared in Greenwood from thin air: no records exist of their births, childhoods, or past jobs. When another murder seems connected to the Hunters' mysterious past, Nameless realizes that there is much more at stake here than money. The twenty-seventh "Nameless" novel functions as both a masterfully plotted, stand-alone mystery and as another chapter in the multivolume life story of an aging, twentieth-century knight errant, San Francisco's version of Travis McGee. The case ends badly, with no winners, but it sets Nameless, reluctantly, on the most significant journey of his life. That bodes well for the series' future. --Wes Lukowsky


Publisher's Weekly Review

Pronzini is a pro. His Nameless Detective is a characterful narrator, and the northern California settings, here as always, are splendidly realized. This time out an insurance company hires Nameless to check into why Sheila Hunter, a glamorous widow with a small daughter, declined to accept the payout on her late husband's sudden accidental death policy. It turns out that Sheila has her own very good reasons for wanting to remain as anonymous as possible. What to do with her appealing little girl seems her main concern. Nameless finds himself involved more deeply than he wants to be when the woman disappears and the child has no one else to turn to. Meanwhile, the elderly neighbor of his feisty mother-in-law dies mysteriously at their retirement home, and what can he do about that? Needless to say, Nameless solves both crimes, though the subplot seems a little perfunctory. The great pleasure here is the voice: civilized, thoughtful, a tad cranky. Nameless is a keen observer of his fellow man (and woman)Äand by no means someone given to false heroics. He can be funny without being mean or silly (a drunken party scene is priceless) and never fails to play fair with the reader. It's a strong collection of virtues that has carried him through some two dozen expert thrillers, to which this is a fine addition. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One                        Greenwood was a little pocket of the good life sewn into the low eastern slopes of the Santa Morena Ridge, on the peninsula about halfway between San Francisco and the smoggy sprawl of Silicon Valley. During Gold Rush times, it had been the only trading post in the region and was a gathering place for the lumberjacks and bullwhackers who worked the nearby sawmills. No lumberjack or bullwhacker could afford to work or shop there these days, much less live in the area. Nor could anyone else whose annual income ran below six figures.     Some years back a national magazine had described Greenwood's larger neighbor, Woodside, as a community "inhabited by gentlemen farmers, gentlemen ranchers, assorted exurbanites, and horses." The description suited Greenwood equally well. Mecca for the horsey set. Riding academies, commercial stables, a paddock or two on every block. Horses, in fact, were so prevalent and held in such regard that local laws had been enacted permitting easements across private property for bridle paths, and backyard stabling if a homesite was an acre or more. There was even an equine licensing tax.     It was the sort of place, despite its gentility and scenic attractions, that made me vaguely uncomfortable. I could never have lived there no matter how much money I had. Too snooty and white bread four my blood, lacking in ethnic mix. Besides which, the only interest I have in horses is now and then watching them run at Tanforan or Golden Gate Fields.     Still, I didn't mind a short visit on those rare occasions when a business matter took me down that way. Quiet there, unlike most other towns strung together along the Peninsula. Densely wooded slopes and hollows, pretty little creeks, gated and walled estates built with old money and maintained by new. The old-fashioned estates appeal to what Kerry and others have referred to as my dinosaur nature. Fortresslike stone houses and outbuildings, more than a few in the English Tudor style--anachronisms in the days of Y2K, relics of a time when nobody bothered to pretend that Americans live in a classless society. Not a better time; hell, no. But one I understood and identified with far more than the present day, when nearly everyone seems to have prostrated himself at the clay feet of the god Technology.     I turned off Highway 280 and rolled into Greenwood at two P.M. on a bright, crisp October afternoon. The town center was a country-village collection of the quaint and the modern: weathered wood and Spanish-style buildings even older than I am, cheek by jowl with tasteful little strip malls and a pseudo-rustic shopping center. The address I wanted turned out to be a two-story, tile-roofed, white stucco pile at least a century old, probably once a hotel and now a warren of professional offices. The one in which Richard Twining held sway was on the ground floor facing Greenwood Road, behind a chain-hung shingle that proclaimed R. V. Twining--Insurance Services .     Twining was waiting for me with a smile, a strong handshake, and a friendly clap on the shoulder. Pure salesman, and a good one to get away with a somewhat flashy presence in such a staid environment. He was about forty, blond, tanned, good-looking, dressed in knife-creased beige slacks, an expensive navy-blue blazer, a silk shirt with the top two buttons undone, and a filigreed gold chain around his sunburned neck. An athlete once, I thought, still more or less in shape but with incipient jowls and the suggestion of a paunch. He had one of those deep, rumbly voices that some women consider an index to both masculinity and virility. The wedding ring on his left hand was three or four ounces of platinum gold and the private office he ushered me into was handsomely furnished. Doing all right for himself, R.V. was, in the insurance racket.     "Have a seat, make yourself comfortable," he said. "Coffee? Tea? Soft drink? Or I've got some really good twelve-year-old Scotch--"     "Nothing, thanks."     He sat down and leaned back in a padded leather armchair. "So. Frankly I don't know why Intercoastal would send an investigator out on a matter like this. I mean, you'd think they'd be happy about it and just let it slide."     "You've talked with Ken Fujita?"     "Oh, sure. But he wasn't exactly forthcoming, if you know what I mean. He confide in you?"     "Pretty much. How well do you know Ken?"     "Not very."     "Well, I've done some work for him in the past. Inconsistent behavior in policy holders bothers him."     "Me, too, for that matter," Twining said. "But this case is just the opposite. How could there be any intent to defraud on Mrs. Hunter's part?"     "It's not that, it's the inconsistency itself. Why would anybody turn down fifty thousand dollars? That's what bothers Fujita."     "Pretty obvious, isn't it? She doesn't need the money. Jack Hunter left her well off."     "Not so well off, according to your report, that fifty thousand wouldn't be welcome. For her daughter's education, if nothing else. And why wouldn't she give you a specific reason? Why act the way she did?"     Twining scratched thoughtfully at his underlip. "I'll admit that makes me wonder, too. But I still don't see the need for an investigation. I could've worked on her myself to get the answers. No offense."     "None taken. There's another reason I was called in, the main one. Did Fujita discuss the publicity angle with you?"     "No. What publicity angle?"     "Intercoastal wants Mrs. Hunter to take the money," I said, "as a, quote, gesture of good will, unquote. Widow refuses payoff, compassionate insurance company convinces her to change her mind for the benefit of her family. It'll look good in the media and the head office, and brokers like you can milk it for new customers."     Twining wagged his head. Then he said, "You know, it's not a bad idea at that. Worth a lot more in the long run than the fifty K."     I said, "Uh-huh. But they don't want to push it until they're certain the Hunters are the all-American family they appear to be. No skeletons, nothing that can backfire on Intercoastal."     "And that's where you come in."     "Skeleton hunter, right. No pun intended."     "Okay, then. So how can I help?"     "Well, your report was pretty detailed, but I'd like to go over the specifics if you don't mind. Ask a few questions."     "No problem. Fire away."     "Let's start with the deceased. How well did you know Jackson Hunter?"     "Casually. We both played golf at Emerald Hills. That's where I signed him, in the bar at the country club." Twining grinned. "Nothing breaks down resistance like three or four martinis."     "Policy on his life only."     "Right. Term life, twenty-five thousand double indemnity. I tried to talk him into a joint spousal policy, but he wouldn't go for it. He didn't even want Sheila--Mrs. Hunter--to know he'd taken out one on himself."     "Why, did he say?"     "Something about her hating the whole idea of insurance."     "You respected his wishes?"     "Sure. Customer is always right."     "This was, what, eighteen months ago?"     "About that."     "You see him much after you signed him?"     "Now and then. Casually, like I said."     "How did he seem to you? Stable, happy? Or a man with problems?"     "I'd say reasonably happy and rock-solid. Drank a little too much, but then, don't we all sometimes."     I let that pass. "Secure in his job?"     "Seemed to be. The computer racket can be iffy, but he wasn't a Silicon road runner. He--"     "Road runner?"     "Commuter, wage slave. Didn't work down in the Valley, at least not regularly. Private consultant, did most of his work at home. He'd been at it several years and he had a couple of medium-size companies on his client list."     "Estimated annual income?"     "Six figures, easy." "A twenty-five-thousand-dollar double indemnity policy is pretty skimpy for a man making that kind of money."     "Exactly what I tried to tell him," Twining said. "He wouldn't listen. I had a hell of a time as it was, signing him on the small term life."     "Why do you think he bothered, then?"     "The truth?" Twining's grin this time was of the preening, self-congratulatory variety. "To get me off his back. Persistence is my middle name. I never met a sales resistance I couldn't break down sooner or later."     "I don't doubt that," I said. "No employment listing for Mrs. Hunter, I noticed."     "Nope. She didn't need to work, so she didn't."     "Was she trained for anything?"     Another grin, the smutty kind. He had quite a repertoire. "Women like Sheila don't need to be trained. She was born with all of her best skills."     "Meaning?"     "She's a fox," he said. "Genuine, grade-A stone fox. One of the most drop-dead gorgeous women I've ever set eyes on. Jack Hunter was one lucky bastard."     "Until two weeks ago, maybe. How does Mrs. Hunter ... what's her maiden name, by the way? I didn't see it in the report."     "Underwood, I think."     I wrote that down. "How does she spend her time? Other than being a homemaker and mother, I mean."     "Potting, mostly. That's her thing."     "What kind of pottery?"     "Odd-shaped bowls and urns, bright glazes with black designs. Pretty good, if you like that kind of art. She has a studio behind their house."     "She sell or display any of her work?"     "Local gallery has a sampling for sale. Anita Purcell Fine Arts. Couple of blocks west of here on the main drag."     I made another note. "About the Hunters' marriage," I said then. "Would you say it was solid?"     "Who knows about things like that?" Twining said, and shrugged. "Looked good on the surface, especially where Jack was concerned. He talked about her all the time, all but drooled on her in public. So would I if I was married to a stone fox like that. Not that my wife's a dog, you understand."     Some compliment. I let that pass, too. "So as far as you know, they were faithful to each other."     "Depends on your definition of faithful. Me, I subscribe to the Clinton version." He laughed. "I can tell you this--she wouldn't play the one time I tested the waters. And if I couldn't score, chances are nobody else could, either. Jack was the only one getting a piece of that pie."     Twining had succeeded in making me actively dislike him. He was one of the breed that looks at every woman the way a glutton looks at a plate of food; that measures and rates every woman in terms of her physical attributes, potential sexual prowess, and availability to him and his line of seductive bullshit. The type that thinks with his little head instead of his big one. A hard-on disguised as a man, in one of Kerry's more colorful phrases. Men like Richard Twining are a central reason why Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and the leaders of NOW became hardcore feminists. Difficult enough to take in their twenties and thirties, past forty their outlook and their shtick become pathetic as well as tiresome and annoying. As far as I was concerned, any woman who had the misfortune to be married to this horse's ass would be completely justified in having him gelded and stabled with the rest of Greenwood's aging stallions.     I managed to maintain an even tone when I asked, "What can you tell me about Mrs. Hunter's background?"     "From Pennsylvania, same as Jack. Harrisburg. Married back there, moved out here when he got a job with Raytec in the Valley. I don't know anything about her family. Or his."     "They sound like private people."     "More so than most. Didn't talk much about themselves, and you couldn't draw them out."     "How long have they lived in Greenwood?"     "About ten years. Little girl, Emily, was born right after they settled here."     "Ever in trouble of any kind?"     "Model citizens," Twining said. "Kept to themselves, never bothered anybody." Elaborate sigh, followed by a broad wink. "I sure wish she'd let me bother her a time or two. Man, she--"     "Suppose we stick to the issue, Mr. Twining. I really don't care about your lust for Jack Hunter's widow."     He didn't like that. He opened his mouth, snapped it shut, glared at me for three or four seconds. I could almost read his thoughts: Tight-assed old fart. Maybe you're a fag, huh, buddy? It was a good thing for both of us that he kept them to himself.     There was no open declaration of hostility. Twining was first and foremost a salesman, whether it was insurance or himself he was peddling. And like it or not, I was a representative of one of the companies he worked for. His expression shape-changed until he was once again wearing his easygoing professional smile, a little more crooked now but otherwise firmly in place. It took about five seconds and it was like watching time-lapse photography of new skin knitting to erase a wound.     He said as if I hadn't interrupted him, "Two nice people, no question about that." His tone was cheerful; you had to listen close to hear the underlying anger.     "They have any close friends?"     "Not that I know about. Except maybe Doc Lukash. Jack played a lot of golf with him and I guess they were pretty friendly, at least at the club."     "Doc. Medical doctor?"     "Dentist. Lukash Dental Clinic, one of the largest in the county."     "Here in Greenwood?"     "Redwood City. Downtown, off El Camino."     I had him spell the name Lukash and then wrote it down in my notebook. "How about Mrs. Hunter? Anyone she sees fairly often--shopping, lunch? Or who shares her interest in potting?"     "Anita Purcell. Only one I know."     "Personal as well as business relationship?"     He dipped one shoulder; he didn't want to talk about Mrs. Hunter anymore. "You'd have to ask her."     "All right. Tell me about the accident."     "Not much to tell. One of those things. Jack went over to the coast on business, was driving home on Highway 84 about eight P.M. That's a mountain road, lots of twists and turns--"     "I know, I've driven it."     "Sure you have," Twining said. "Dark night, foggy, and he was heading up the grade out of La Honda. Damn drunk decided to pass a truck on the downhill side, misjudged the distance, hit Jack's car head on. Both of them killed instantly."     "No doubt that it was the drunk's fault?"     "None. Goddamn wetback off one of the farms out there. Boozehounds, all those braceros , and menaces when they get behind the wheel.     Philanderer, chauvinist, and a bigot, too. I said thinly, "Drank drivers come in all races, colors, and creeds."     "Yeah," he said. "What were you thinking? That maybe Jack committed suicide?"     "Always a possibility."     "He had no reason to kill himself."     "So you've indicated. How soon after the accident did you talk to Mrs. Hunter about the policy?"     "Couple of days."     "You called her?"     "Called and then went to see her. Offer my condolences, get the paperwork started on the claim."     "And she didn't know anything about the policy."     "She did by then," Twining said. "Found it among Jack's papers. I asked her why she hadn't contacted me, and that was when she said she didn't want to file a claim, didn't want the fifty thousand."     "Do you remember her exact words?"     "`I don't need the money, I don't want it, Jack should never have taken out an insurance policy.' She just wanted to forget the whole thing."     "`Jack should never have taken out an insurance policy.' That's a funny way to phrase it."     "Funny?"     "As if he'd done something wrong."     "I guess she figured he had. She seemed pretty upset about it."     "Upset over a life insurance policy that would pay her and her daughter fifty thousand dollars. That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense."     Twining made a Who-knows? gesture with one hand. "She's one of those people who think insurance is a ghoul's game." He looked at me squarely and added, "Even stone-fox widows can be a little nuts."     I ignored it; there was nothing to be gained in challenging him again. "Did you talk to her after that?"     "Once. To see if maybe she'd changed her mind. She wouldn't even let me in the house."     "So you haven't told her about Intercoastal bringing in an investigator."     "Not my place. Besides, Fujita said I should keep it confidential. You going to see her?"     "As soon as I can."     "How about if I go out there with you, pave the way--"     "Not necessary. All I need is directions to her home."     He provided them, and we both came up out of our chairs as if some kind of bell had gone off. No handshake this time, no parting words--both of us anxious for me to be gone. At the door I glanced back and he gave a little dismissive wave; his smile had slipped halfway into a sneer. What an asshole, his eyes said.     I went out thinking the same about him. Copyright © 2000 the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust. All rights reserved.