Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rust Belt

I have a soft spot for "tough guy mysteries" and Loren Estleman writes some of the best. He also writes about Detroit, which means whenever I get a case of the Midwestern Homesick Blues, I pull out one of his Amos Walker mysteries. Sugartown is the fifth book, and compulsively readable.

Amos Walker is a Detroit private investigator with a whole lot of nerve, a smart mouth, and little to no tact. This time out he's hired by an elderly woman named Martha Evancek who wants him to find the grandson she lost track of nineteen years ago. There's been a lot of tragedy in the Evancek family, and young Michael is the only one left. Meanwhile, Amos also gets his hand on another case - someone is threatening Fedor Alanov, a Russian novelist now living in the U.S. because he ticked off one too many people in the good old U.S.S.R. He soon suspects that the two cases are connected and thrown into the mix is a long-lost heirloom. A silver cross embedded with semi-precious stones. The question is, will Walker be able to piece it together before someone knocks his skull against the pavement.

Estleman writes old school pulp, and bangs out sentences to a staccato beat. No wasted words, with dialog so fun to read it's easy to ignore the fact that nobody in real life talks like that. There are always gems to be found in his stories and two of my favorites in Sugartown are:
"She would not know a solid man if one fell on her."
"It was a good neighborhood. The very best people were found dead there."
The only knock I have against Estleman is that it helps if you know the Detroit area. You just get more of the jokes. For instance, most Michiganders (those that can be bothered anyway) know what he means by "fielding flies like Horton," when he talks about seeing the lights of Windsor, or when he tosses out a reference to The Purple Gang. They're still enjoyable reads, but let's face it - we librarians would categorize Estleman's work as having "strong regional appeal."

I'm not sure how wildly read he is, but my guess is not near enough. I think his earlier books aren't quite as dated as say, Robert B. Parker's early Spenser novels. Although, that said, Sugartown does show it's age in spots. Hey, it was first published in 1984 - so of course the Soviet Union is still around, and Amos is resisting the siren song of computers. The Tigers are still playing ball on The Corner, and the auto industry is actually looking for ways to bring jobs into the city. One thing hasn't changed all that much though - the complete clusterf--- that is Detroit. Everything from politics run amok to urban renewal gone bad. It's never a pretty picture, and it's a damn near perfect setting for the type of crime novels Estelman writes. Detroit is to him what Los Angeles is to James Ellroy.

A highly enjoyable series. I need to keep reading and hit the more recent installments. I'm curious if Amos 1) ever stops smoking like a chimney or 2) gets an office computer. Final Grade = B.


Big Sis said...

Thanks Wendy. I got your e-mail and put that bad boy on hold at KPL. I had wanted to start this series before, but I can't remember why I never started it. I'll let you know when I'm done with Motor City Blue.

Rosie said...

Sounds like your reading switch is back on. Any reactions from your friend about the Fabio pillow?

Wendy said...

She was quite jealous until she found out I didn't sleep with Fabio LOL Our friendship is intact.

The mojo seems to be back. Reading a comfort read (an HH western), then switching to a mystery seems to have helped. We'll see though....