Thursday, February 10, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: "The Jade Figurine" by Bill Pronzini

Bill Pronzini has been a part of my reading life for a lot of years way in my teens devouring mystery fiction. I got started with his Nameless Detective books which were so good I rarely complained that they weren't action packed and I think a lot of my love and interest of pulp magazines come from Nameless's love and interest in pulp magazines. Pronzini has written a lot of mysteries, suspense work, and even westerns. He obviously has a has an affinity for hard-boiled tales, but rarely seems to get the opportunity to write them. His "A Run in Diamonds" (originally published as by Alex Saxon) is one of the great "lost Men's Adventure" series only getting one book and some short stories dedicated to Carmody, a tough jack-of-all-trades in a tough world. With Jeffery Wallmann he wrote "Day of the Moon," a wonderful hybrid of a detective novel with the flavor of Richard Stark's Parker books. And as Jack Foxx, Pronzini wrote two books about Dan Connell, a former pilot and smuggler trying to stay out of trouble (and failing) in Singapore.

"The Jade Figurine" owes some groundwork to "The Maltese Falcon." A tough guy lead stuck in the middle of a several double-crosses over a valuable statuette. Plus, one of the bad guys is real fat. Other than that, it's a comfortable tale of murder and smuggling in an old B-Movie sort of way. Dan Connell is on the outs, working day labor and drinking beer in Singapore when an old buddy comes to Dan and wants him to smuggle him out of the country. Dan doesn't do that anymore and there's the start of a well-crafted crime tale with a dash of exotic-locale adventure story mixed in. Dan is beaten, shot, double crossed, accused of murder and runs afoul of the police all in under 200 pages. Books used to know how to do it. What's wonderful about "The Jade Figurine" is that Pronzini knows all the cliches and trappings involved in these kinds of stories, he manipulates them and twists them around to create a fresh take but doesn't break the mold. There's plenty of local color, slippery characters and a strong twisting story that could have run as a serial in the pages of "Black Mask." It actually reminded me a bit of Raoul Whitfield's Jo Gar stories which I hadn't read when I first read the book back in my teens with its mixture of hardboiled first-person narration and foreign land intrigue. 

Wonder how much I paid?
There's really nothing wrong with this book. I don't think Pronzini is capable of writing a book novel. Every single one I've ever read had a flow clean flow, made perfect sense and moved along quickly. I'm going to have to take a long at the second Connell book "Dead Run" before too long and maybe an early Nameless or two. I recall really enjoying "Undercurrent," the third in the series and I just happened to come across a nice old paperback in the wild. Hmm. Decisions. Decisions. Seriously go read "The Jade Figurine" now. It's easily available as an eBook or reprint under Pronzini's real name. 

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