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Give-a-Damn Jones: A Novel of the West


Give-a-Damn Jones: A Novel of the West

It would be impossible to exaggerate Bill Pronzini’s contribution to genre fiction. Every contemporary mystery or thriller author in the business is either directly or indirectly beholden to him. A seeming force of nature, Pronzini has edited seemingly countless anthologies introducing neophyte readers to crime literature and veteran ones to new authors. This he has done while devoting his own prodigious writing talents to such long-running series as The Nameless Detective and writing literally hundreds of short stories.

Pronzini also has been known to turn his hand to the western genre while frequently bringing a unique take to a setting that otherwise would seem limited or constraining. In the newly published GIVE-A-DAMN JONES, he demonstrates that there remains plenty of stories to be mined.

"GIVE-A-DAMN JONES reminds me of the Helen Fuller Orton mysteries of my youth, and I’m giving Pronzini one of my largest compliments with that statement."

This latest book offers a very unique take on an often overlooked fixture of the American West, that of the itinerant typesetter. The format of the novel is worth the price of admission all by itself. It is narrated from several different and rotating perspectives, each of which gives the reader a description of sorts of Artemas “Give-a-Damn” Jones, who, during the late 19th century in which the story is set, is the best-known newspaper typographer in the West. His fame, though, is not entirely due to the skill set he brings to his chosen profession. Jones has a reputation for inadvertently finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and quickly becoming involved, deliberately or otherwise but always with reluctance, in quarrels not his own. This involuntary penchant has earned Jones his nickname, which, as we learn soon enough, he does not care for. Be that as it may, he does his best --- accidentally or not --- to live up to it.

Most of the book occurs in Box Elder, Montana, where the somewhat nomadic Jones has stopped in search of employment. He finds it at the Banner, the town newspaper, where his skills make him a valued employee. While Jones is only in town for a few weeks, he manages to restore a reputation, save a couple of lives, rid the town of a walking scourge, and accomplish other things as well. Pronzini keeps some minor plot plates spinning throughout his tale, all of them set against the backdrop of Box Elder, which has just enough problems to keep the sheriff busy. Jones gives into his wanderlust all too quickly, but leaves the town a better place than when he arrived. And that’s really what everything --- in the fictional world and the real one --- is all about, isn’t it?

GIVE-A-DAMN JONES reminds me of the Helen Fuller Orton mysteries of my youth, and I’m giving Pronzini one of my largest compliments with that statement. The Orton books always occurred in one place with a small cast of characters who bumped up against each other, but everything turned out okay in the end. Here, Pronzini gives us a number of interconnected stories with Jones as the appealing glue. It’s a tale of a different time, better in some ways and not in others, with enough timely research to almost make you taste the grit in the streets and the cheap whiskey in the town taverns. In other words, it rarely, if ever, gets any better than this.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 18, 2018

Give-a-Damn Jones: A Novel of the West
by Bill Pronzini

  • Publication Date: May 8, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Western
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765394391
  • ISBN-13: 9780765394392