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Review: Hellbox, by Bill Pronzini

HERB JOHNSON – GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
Pronzini has a long list of “nameless” detective novels to his credit and this one is ample proof that he has earned the “Mystery Writers of America Grand Master” title that adorns the front cover.
This is a book that moves right along. The “nameless” designation comes from the fact that the hero is never identified by his last name. He is known only as Bill.
His wife Kerry has a last name, but she has kept her maiden name, so that doesn’t help. And she is the person around whom the story revolves.
Out for a walk in the woods while she and Bill are staying in a cabin, she encounters a man whom she has seen briefly in a bar in town and greets him by name.
Turns out this was a bad thing to do because the man has just recently committed a crime nearby and is justifiably leery about being seen. Acting on impulse, he grabs Kerry, stops just short of choking her to death and takes her to his house and locks her in a shed, where she stays for almost the entire book.
The novel shifts from one character to another with each chapter. The ones with Kerry are concerned with her trying to get loose.
The ones with Pete Balfour, the man Kerry encountered on the road, are more interesting. Pete is a loser. Ugly and ill-tempered, he spends much of his time plotting revenge against all the people who make fun of him . . . and there a lot of them.
The one that really gets his goat is Ned Verriker. After stewing about Verriker’s most recent insult, Balfour decides to blow up his house, with Ned and his wife inside. That’s what he was doing when he encountered Kerry, fixing up a gas leak that would blow the house to smithereens when a (faulty) light switch was turned on. Worked like a charm, except that Verriker was working late that day and only his wife is killed.
Balfour spends the rest of the book plotting his second attempt to kill Verriker, but most of action is concerned with Bill’s attempt to find Kerry. He gets no help from the police, but he’s a detective by trade and gets help from a friend. His eventual success is a foregone conclusion, but the path that takes us there is well-plotted and a good read.

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