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Book Review: American Detective by Loren Estleman

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Loren Estlemen is one of those writers that I habitually pick up, spend time with, and know I’m going to get a solid story. He writes private eye yarns and Westerns, two genres that I always lean toward when I want comfort reading.

American Detective is the latest novel in the long-running Amos Walker series. Estleman writes Detroit, Michigan, like no one else, and Walker is a thoroughly believable blue collar private investigator of the old school. He’s loyal and tough, and generally gets through a case based more on his indefatigable stubbornness rather than uncanny intellect or charm.

In American Detective, Walker is hired by ex-baseball pitcher Darius Fuller to break up the engagement between his daughter Deirdre and Hilary Bairn, a guy Fuller believes is after her two million dollar inheritance. It’s not the kind of work Walker generally does — he’s more of a bodyguard than a legbreaker — but he likes Fuller and agrees to lean on Bairn. Estleman does a really good job of building in Walker’s motivation to take the case, one old warrior doing a good turn by another old warrior.

But the case takes some bad turns when Walker confirms that Bairn is bad news. As it turns out, Bairn has his finger in a lot of illegal pies, and he’s doublecrossing some of the people he’s in business with.

As usual, things get sticky quick for Walker and it isn’t long before his small, cramped office and house end up filled with bad guys and cops wanting answers Walker would rather not give. The cops threaten indictment and the bad guys threaten physical damage. I really liked the dialogue between Walker and Elron, a hardcase in the employ of a known racketeer whose path crosses that of Walker.

Even more, I enjoyed the few scenes with the Asian madam in charge of a criminal empire. I would have loved to have seen more of her and her femme fatale Violet and hope that they make a return engagement at some time in the near future.

Walker’s investigation takes a lot of twists and turns this time around. I was fascinated by the amount of criminal activities as well as the variations of them. The bit about the money machine as a way to collect bank information was awesome, and I haven’t ever heard of that scheme before.

As usual, Estleman’s first-person voice is great. Walker sounds like someone you know, not just a character on a page. I empathize with him a lot because he chooses to deal with life on his own two feet and accept the consequences. Also, he stays true to the people he makes deals with. Honesty and integrity are two of the best qualities you can find in a person, and Walker carries the scars of those burdens.

If you like the Robert B. Parker Spenser series but haven’t tried Estleman, I urge you to. I love the Spenser novels, but Spenser always seems to find the right answer in the middle of being macho enough to handle everything. But I enjoy Estleman’s take on blue collar sleuthing equally.

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