Written by Loren D Estleman — With more than 20 written over a 30-year period, the Amos Walker books must represent one of the longest running private eye series ever. Based in Estleman’s Detroit, with frequent trips into fictional Iroquois Heights, Walker is a PI in the classic mode, right down to his cigarettes and whiskey diet, and history as an ex-cop. Think the Marlowe of Chandler, Bogart, and Howard Hawks, rather than that of Robert Altman and Elliott Gould.
A long time ago Amos Walker and John Alderdyce were cadets together in the Detroit Police Department. Before that they were friends. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and Walker’s decision to quit the force and go private changed their relationship. Alderdyce has risen through the ranks to Inspector. Along the way some of the compromises he’s made – the kind any cop makes to get the job done when there is so much crime and so few convictions – have rubbed Walker up the wrong way. Meanwhile, Walker’s precious idealism seems insulting to a hard-bitten pragmatist like Alderdyce. So when Alderdyce asks Walker to intervene in a family matter, what remains of their fragile relationship is put on the line.
However the stakes are much higher than that because Walker has to delve into Mexicantown. The brother-in-law of Alderdyce’s estranged son is involved with The Maldados, one of the two powerful Mexican gangs in Detroit. Skipping school, staying out overnight, and with a new tarantula tattoo – the gang’s insignia – Ernesto is only 16. Currently he’s what’s known as a werewolf , and he won’t be respected by older members until he kills a man. Walker’s job is to extricate Nesto before he’s in too deep. To do so he’ll need to use not just his contacts in Mexicantown, but 30 years of street-smarts and a lot of luck. Before he’s done, Walker runs into arson, murder, cockfighting rings, and Mexican gang leaders high on their own dope. In true noir tradition, good people will do bad things for the right reasons, and Walker might just have another piece of his soul tainted by cynicism.
Alderdyce is one of several recurring characters in the Amos Walker series and it was a pleasure to see their relationship explored in more depth. He’s previously been somewhat unknowable so to have his emotional vulnerabilities exposed was very satisfying for a long term reader of the series. Elsewhere, Estleman’s strengths as a writer were very much present. Walker’s dialogue is a delight, treading deftly on the fine line between wise-cracking and pastiche. It’s to Estleman’s credit that he knows where that line is and rarely crosses it.
The author has used the Walker books to document the corruption that has blighted his hometown of Detroit, and his anger comes across clearly. The decline of American manufacturing, particularly the motor industry, is another theme. As a matter of fact, the paperback reprints which first introduced me to this series featured beautiful illustrations on their covers of classic American muscle cars.
Perhaps though, the 22nd book in a series is not the best place for a new reader to discover a character. Estleman is a noted short story writer and if you’re new to Walker I’d suggest starting with Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection from Tyrus Books. Long-time readers will want to dive straight into Burning Midnight, though.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars