American author Bill Pronzini has written over 40 novels for his private eye series 'Nameless Detective.’ Beginning in 1971, Pronzini focused his efforts on anthologies and short fiction, contributing hundreds of short stories to magazines like “Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine” while compiling over 100 collections. Along with his 'Nameless Detective' novels, Pronzini's body of work features over 35 stand-alone novels and a number of pseudonyms including Jack Foxx, William Hart Davis and Alex Saxon.
One of Pronzini's most interesting creations is the characters of John Frederick Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter. From my deep dive, the first 'Quincannon' appearance seems to be the 1985 “Quincannon” novel that introduces both characters. There we learn that Quincannon is a former U.S. Secret Service agent who's turned private detective after murdering a young woman and her child with a stray bullet. Teaming with love interest Carpenter, the two operate out of 1890s San Francisco and accept various jobs that conveniently propels a number of sub-genre narratives – locked room puzzles, whodunit sleuths, mystery, western and adventure. It's fertile ground to harvest a number of series installments.
There are dozens of Quincannon short stories stemming from the character's debut novel and it's follow-up “Beyond the Grave”, co-written with Pronzini's wife Marcia Muller in 1986. The marital collaboration has created eight more novels in the series and a fantasy-styled “reboot” to provide more international intrigue. My first sampling of Quincannon is the 1988 short story “No Room at the Inn,” which originally appeared in the Harper Collins mystery compilation “Crime at Christmas.”
Pronzini's rich attention to detail saturates this holiday themed short. Atmospheric, mysterious and eerie, “No Room at the Inn” places lone Quincannon high in the Sierra Nevada during a Christmas Eve blizzard. Guided by the full moon's light while riding a rented horse, Quincannon is on the trail of Slick Henry, a counterfeiter who specializes in mining stock. Henry is a confidence trickster, ascending through the ranks of the most notorious and dangerous criminal lists of 1894. Quincannon has accepted a $5,000 assignment to nab Henry for the West Coast Banking Association.
Fearing for his own safety in the storm, Quincannon begins losing hope in tracking Henry through the high foliage and decides to concentrate his efforts on survival. Miraculously, Quincannon rides into a small, seemingly abandoned community for shelter. Once there, he finds that people have gone missing in the midst of dinner. Further, there's still horses in the barn as if the township left on foot in the storm. Once the first body is discovered, the novel quickly moves from western to sleuth as our main character discovers the whereabouts of Henry...and his motives.
Pronzini proves that his storytelling talents were certainly diversified. “No Room at the Inn” is immensely enjoyable both as a western and a dark thriller. Never reading Quincannon before, this introductory, early short story certainly has my attention. I'm looking for more of this character in the future.
Note - “No Room at the Inn” can be found in Pronzini's Leisure compilation entitled “Burgade's Crossing” (2004). Despite the misleading artwork, the compilation is strictly a Quincannon theme featuring eight total shorts from sources including “Louis L'Amour Western Magazine,” “Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,” and Pronzini's own compilation “Carpenter and Quincannon: Professional Detective Services.” For an easy, affordable introduction to the character, track this old paperback down. It's well worth your time.
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