Quincannon’s Game by Bill Pronzini

John Quincannon was a Secret Service agent but has now (well, in the United States in the 1890s) become a private investigator in partnership with Sabina Carpenter, an ex-Pinkerton and the object of his unrequited desire. This book collects three short stories and one novella featuring the pair – well, primarily Quincannon – as they investigate some bizarre crimes.

Bill Pronzini impressed me with the novel Hoodwink, a modern spin on the classic locked room mystery, so I thought I’d try out some more of his work. In particular I was drawn to this collection, as I do like the western-detective crossover, as evidenced by my raving about Steve Hockensmith’s work and also my fondness for Edward D Hoch’s Ben Snow mysteries. So, that’s pretty stiff competition – how does Quincannon fare next to those rivals? Well he does have someone to help him out in the novella – a certain visitor from London who’s lying low after faking his death at the Reichenbach Falls.

It turns out that Hoodwink wasn’t my introduction to him, as I’ve read at least one of these short stories before, but let’s address them in reverse order:

Quincannon In Paradise

Quincannon pursues a pair of swindlers to Hawaii. There’s some interesting stuff about the islands, but this is a straightforward adventure without any real surprises.

Medium Rare

Quincannon and Carpenter (the only significant appearance of her in the collection) are hired to flush out a bogus medium – only for him to be killed mid-seance when everyone present has linked hands. A nice little story, but all too predictable, plot-wise.

The Cloud Cracker

Quincannon sets out for a Californian town to bring back a swindler posing as a rainmaker, only for him to “shoot himself” inside a locked shed. A clever little locked room murder – old hands will probably spot the how.

The Bughouse Caper

The novella of the piece and the star attraction. Quincannon encounters Holmes as he investigates a serial burglar. On the evening he sets out to catch the villain, with Holmes guarding the front door, the owner of the house is found shot and stabbed inside a locked room and the burglar has vanished into the ether. The interplay between Holmes and Quincannon is a lot of fun – Quincannon has quite the ego, you see, and can’t abide someone who might be cleverer than him, and the mystery is clever, although you’ll probably guess part of it. The how is unfortunately a little reminiscent of Hoodwink – unfortunate in the sense of me reading them in close proximity, that is.

I’ve done these in reverse order, as the only real issue I had with the book is that the quality goes down with each story. I always thought the plan was to save the best ‘til last. Not sure why they were chosen in this order – they’re not chronological, as Quincannon even refers to Medium Rare in The Bughouse Caper.

All in all, a good collection of short stories, and I’d like to see more of the characters. Time to invest in the Crippen and Landru collection, methinks.


  1. Greta to hear about thione Steve – I love Pronzini but have not read any of his period stories (that I know of – he’s used a lot of pseudonyms over the decades). There’s is an earlier collection from Crippen & Landru, right? Are these characters only in short stories or in novels too? I love short stories and Pronzini does too of course but inevitably novels can be a bit more substantial perhaps.


    • I’ve done a bit of searching and according to TomCat, Pronzini and his wife, Marcia Muller are co-authoring a series of Carpenter and Quincannon stories, the first due in Jan 2013. Oddly, it’s entitled The Bughouse Affair, features a locked room and someone who’s pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. I guess it’s an expansion of the novella, but I could be wrong.

      The Crippen and Landru collection is earlier, but these stories respectively were originally published in 2004, 1994, 1998 and 2005 and the middle two also appear in the Crippen and Landru collection.


  2. I did not know that there was a short story so similar to the novel announced last year, but it makes me regret that I passed up this collection because I thought all of them were also collected in the Crippen and Lundra book (which I had already read and can heartily recommend to any mystery fan out there).


    • Well, it’s a novella – around 100 pages – and certainly the best of the bunch, partly due to the expanded page count. Of course, if it does have anything in common with the upcoming novel, you might want to wait for that.

      Don’t worry too much about missing out on Quincannon in Paradise though…


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