When it began I thought the most annoying thing about my choice for this month’s Crimes of the Century read would be that its protagonist’s name is never provided. I’m prepared to accept that Ralph Ellison or Graham Greene might have been making a deep or existentially interesting point when choosing this particular literary device but in virtually every other instance I’ve encountered it I am underwhelmed. Here too I was soon rolling my eyes at the clunky way a fictional nameless chap is forced to wander through life being referred to vaguely. But, unfortunately, this was far from the most annoying thing about the book.
That was, without doubt, its central premise which is in summary, when a woman uses the allure of her vagina no man can be held accountable for his actions.
I know the book is 40 years old but I’m tired of making allowances for this mindset regardless of the era in which it is depicted. Because let’s face it the attitude has not been consigned to history’s dustbin.
So, story-wise at least, BLOWBACK was a dud for me. It is a quite convoluted tale set in northern California in which a nameless private investigator is asked by an old army buddy to attend his fishing camp. There is a woman there whose vagina is causing mayhem amongst all the people with penises (OK they’re not the exact words Harry uses to get his nameless friend involved but it’s what he means). There is a lot of flirting and innuendo, then a dead Persian rug dealer turns up. The resolution, you should not be surprised to discover, has nothing to do with carpets and everything to do with evil vaginas.
All of that said I should point out the highlight of the book which is our nameless hero. He is very well drawn despite his nameless existence. He seems very realistic and Pronzini does a great job of showing us how he is feeling during the series of precarious situations he encounters. The best example of this is that throughout the story he is awaiting news about whether a lesion on his lung is benign or not and the way he struggles with this is quite beautifully depicted. He’s a ‘blokey bloke’ and keeps his worries to himself but the first-person point of view allows us to get a sense of how daunting he is finding the whole experience of facing his own mortality in a different way than he must have done during his years in the army or police force.
Because of that I am on the fence about whether or not to give Pronzini another go as an author. Perhaps those of you familiar with his work can recommend something with less evil vaginas.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Doug Hamilton
Publisher This edition Speaking Volumes 2013, Original edition 1977
Length 5 hours 42 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #4 in the nameless detective series
Source of review copy I bought it