Thursday, May 16, 2013

FFB: Night Screams by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg

I hadn't heard of Bill Pronzini till a few weeks back. But as he turned seventy, his birthday was celebrated in the blogosphere and a particular FFB featured a few of his books. [Very graciously, Pronzini  thanked everyone for the good-wishes]. As I read enthusiastic reviews of his work, I realised that here was one author I had to read. Unfortunately though the libraries I frequent don't seem to stock his books and the only one that I could lay my hands on was a book that he wrote jointly with Barry N. Malzberg: Night Screams.



The beginning was not promising. A young woman has visions about a murder being committed. This was too much like Dean Koontz' The Vision, a book that I suffered last year. My enthusiasm for the book got slightly punctured.

 Leslie Abbot is a painter who is also a clairvoyant and  has lately been having visions about people being murdered. She not only witnesses them being strangled but also feels their terror, and echoes of their screams reverberate in her mind. On top of it, she recognises the victims and feels that she knows their murderer too. A faceless figure whom she paints.

The murdered people are part of a group called PSYCHICs. (The Parapsychological Society: Yankees Clairavoyants in Humanistic Ideological Concord). The founding member of the group, Oscar Koskovich is a troubled man. He feels that two of the members: Tony Murray and Sandra Harris have died because of the fact that they were members of PSYCHICs and he feels guilty of having ever brought them together. He calls the remaining members of the group: Gloria Mason, Neal Iverson, Jo Turner, and Leslie Abbot for a meeting to discuss the situation. They check in at an inn in Whitehall where Leslie stays, much to her dismay as the people in that particular community do not like Psychics. She has already been receiving anonymous threatening calls. As they discuss the situation however, tensions amongst the group members - who have little in common - surface. Neal is of the opinion that somebody with a hatred of psychics is killing the members while Jo feels that somebody from their own group is behind the killings.

Meanwhile, the FBI enters in the form of two agents: Brad Saxon and Stan Walker. It seems that a bureaucratic agent by the name of Morris Evers has disappeared. Since Evers was the cousin of the murdered woman, Sandra, the FBI feels there is a connect between her murder and his disappearance. I reacted with dismay as Saxon made his way towards Whitehall - unconventionally handsome with a quiet determination not to mention a troubled past - it was predictable (yawn) that he would fall for our troubled heroine - attractive, sensible, vulnerable yet strong. More killings occur and though our hero pledges that he'd safe-guard the strong yet vulnerable Leslie, one does not have to be a psychic to know that at the last moment he'd be way-laid/ knocked-out and our vulnerable yet strong heroine will have to face the terror of the murdrer all alone.

Despite these cliches -I do not know whether these were cliches when the book was published (1979) - the book is an okay read with a balance between horror and humour. Neal with his psychic birds provides many  funny situations but there is also an understated humour as in this scene:

Colebrook came over beside him. "Mr. Walker ask you a question?"

"Go right ahead."


"How long you planning to stay on here?"


"That depends."


"On what?"


"On when we decide to leave."


Colebrook pursed his lips. "Haven't seen your partner around since breakfast," he said. "He out on FBI business or something?"


"Or something."


"Be back pretty soon, will he?"


"Soon enough. Anything more you'd like to know?"


"Seems a man ought to be told what's going on inside his own hotel," Colebrook said stiffly. "Particular when there's government agents and murder involved."


"What do you know about murder, Mr. Colebrook?"


A vague look of alarm came into the innkeeper's eyes. "I don't know nothing about it."


"Then why don't we keep it that way?" Walker said and went away from him and up to the second floor.


Or in other words DO NOT MESS with the FBI.




Over all, I wasn't too disappointed with the book but going by the reviews I don't think this is Pronzini's better ones either.

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.At a point in the text, Abbot and Saxon listen to Louis Armstrong over dinner. Having only a vague idea of Armstrong and intrigued by a song called 'Muggles', I went over to You Tube and listened to it:






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First Line: In the darkness, using the beam of his flashlight to guide him, he moved at a measured pace through the marshland.

Title: Night Screams

Authors: Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg

Publication Details: NY: Playboy Paperbacks, 1981

First Published: 1979

Pages: 300

Other Books read of the same author: None

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Kindle edition of the book is being offered at Amazon. I borrowed mine from H.M. Library at Fountain. [F.P 89]



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Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, New Authors, Reading Outside the Box.

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books, today at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

13 comments:

  1. pronzini remains highly varied as wella s prolific, so don;t let this one colour your judgement too much or you will miss out on a mjaor mystery writer. I actually have this one on the shelf still to read (well, currently in storage, but you get the idea) - if you find the earlier Pronzini and Malzberg collaboration, THE RUNNING OF BEASTS, I promise you won't be disappointed Neer - it's an abslute tour de force!

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    1. Sergio, I am not too disappointed with the book. It was an okay read but going by the reviews read I think he has written better books. I'll definitely be scouting for more of his books at second-hand book shops. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to find THE RUNNING OF BEASTS too.

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  2. I still have a fondness for this book. I read it as a teen when it was a brand new book. I think it probably is better for a younger reader these days. There is one character who strikes me as an embarrassing stereotype now but who was my favorite of the bunch -- the gay psychic (was it Neal?). He was very funny and was my pick for the killer for most of the book. I'll not reveal if I was right or wrong. Sadly, the book seems unoriginal due to the saturation of serial killer novels and psychics solving crimes -- a motif that exploded in the mid 1970s. Ira Levin's play DEATHTRAP makes fun of it brilliantly. I think most of NIGHT SCREAMS was also intended to spoof the 70s trend of having psychics solve crimes.

    (Looks like you got some mulch spam. And I thoguht it was only for gardening!)

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    1. Hi John, certain books read when young do stay with us, don't they? Neal is very funny and I quite liked him but he did not seem gay. (or did I miss out on something????)

      Had no idea that the serial killers and psychics exploded in the Seventies. What was the reason behind this? A path-breaking book or a spate of murders?

      I am tired of spam but do not know how to counter such comments. It is a pain deleting them, esp. when you think that you have got a lot of comments only to realise that they are spam. Very frustrating.

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  3. Neeru - This is a thoughtful and detailed review, for which thanks. I believe Sergio's right that Pronzini has done better work, and at some point I hope you'll experiment and see if you like it.

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    1. Thanks Margot. I haven't been put-off Pronzini and I am surely going to scout for his books, esp. the one that Sergio has recommended so highly.

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  5. This is a excellent review. On first look, I thought the book would be too violent, scary, etc. But on rereading your review, I decided it might be good, with FBI investigators and all, and I know I like Pronzini's writing.

    My husband and I are fans of his Nameless detective series. He has read 36 of the 37 published books in the series, and I have read 24.

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    1. Wow, very impressive figures. If I may ask, why hasn't your husband read the 37th book. Is it because he doesn't want the series to, in a way, end for him? I am asking this because this is something that I do too. Keep at least one book unread for the magic not to end.:)

      The book has its moments of horror but there is also a strong strand of humour which I quite liked.

      Thanks for liking the review.

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    2. Yes, he does exactly what you do. There is a new one out in July and when he gets that one, he will read #37. I think he has been reading them as long as we have been married, which is a long time. I introduced him to the series, but he is the most faithful to it.

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    3. I hope he likes # 37.

      I often feel that the bonds bonded by books are the strongest bonds ever.[Though at times there is a heated discussion - read argument - about plot/ characters etc.]. I had a friend in school who used to share my enthusiasm for books. Now when I look back I feel she was my closest friend in school, though we were together only for a year.

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  6. I liked the Pronzini/Malzberg books including this one. I always tried to figure out who wrote what.

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    1. Now you have set me thinking.

      Thanks for visiting. Hope you come again.

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