Nameless (Bentley Little)

Created by Bentley Little
(1960–)

“Trinidad was still alive when I found him. Barely.”
— the opening of “Bumblebee”

Two things set this medium-boiled, quietly activist private eye and NAMELESS apart: one, his mean streets are actually the sun-scorched highways and palm-lined byways of modern Phoenix and environs, and two, amid the “routine” murders, political and criminal intrigues, and family secrets of your average P.I. fare, there are ghosts, curses, zombies, and even a shape-shifting entity or two.

The anonymous, down-on-his-heels private investigator first surfaced in “Bumblebee,” a 1991 short story, coming upon a battered, dying friend Trinidad, a “coyote” on the Arizona immigrant underground, the apparent victim of a hate crime committed by a man already suspected of burning a sanctuary safe house and fourteen undocumenteds in an abandoned semi outside Tucson. Trinidad’s dying declaration, the eponymous “Bumblebee,” is the detective’s only clue to solving what he terms a “Phoenix Special”–“a two-day open file with no accompanying legwork, and an unsolved stamp on top of the folder,” reserved for cases involving non-white victims.

The detective insists “I simply do what I am hired to do, and I only take a job if its parameters are well within the boundaries of legality,” but he quickly betrays his sympathies with his assessment of “the pin-striped pinheads who passed for humans” in the downtown Immigration office. As he probes Southwest history and Mexican lore tied to a ghost town in the Sonoran desert, he’s warned off by the porcine and recurring Lieutenant Armstrong, an unabashed and violent racist who labels the P.I. a “traitor” for his affinity toward the Latino community. In the Chandler tradition, a few epithets and a gut punch only strengthen the gumshoe’s resolve to uncover what turns out to be a harrowing and uncanny revenge scheme.

Bentley Little, a publicity-shy horror writer known for his satirical turns of plot and wit and genre, and whose fans including Stephen King (Little’s Arizona is analogous to King’s Maine), had planned “Bumblebee” as a one-off, and admits it was “quickly written” and forgotten. But the story took on a life of its own with his fans, and he followed up in 1997 with “The Piano Player Has No Fingers.” It was the story of an apparently clear-cut case of local political corruption and page one public homicide that, again, takes a turn into the Twilight Zone. Latino lore and revenge themes again surface in 2002’s “Maya’s Mother,” where the straight-arrow eye reluctantly accepts a job concerning threats to the Big Man, a Phoenix mobster. The horror, including a graphic dose of body horror, emerges full-throttle in this third case.

“The Silence of Trees,” published 16 years later, finds the investigator a reasonably contented “casino detective” at the gambling joint on the Fort Apache reservation, having left Phoenix years earlier “burned out on my job, my life, the state of the goddamned world.” The inevitable tall, dark, and gorgeous femme fatale approaches him to investigate her father’s death, purportedly at the hands of a monster haunting a remote stretch of highway.

A short and scattered ouevre, perhaps, but written in classic modern noir style, steeped in highly topical issues and angst, evocative in its description of Southern Arizona, and more solidly structured in terms of real-world procedure than most supernatural PI series, making this unnamed gumshoe “the Archer of the arcane.” Perhaps it was the popularity of his anonymous sleuth that prompted Little to write the 2000 zombie novel The Walking, with private investigator Miles Huerdeen as the protagonist.

SHORT STORIES

  • “Bumblebee” (1991, Cold Blood)
  • “The Piano Player Has No Fingers” (1997, Palace Corbie Seven)
  • “Maya’s Mother” (2002, The Collection)
  • “The Silence of Trees” (2018, Walking Alone)

COLLECTIONS

RELATED LINKS

Report respectfully submitted by Martin Ross.

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