The people who say it isn't have already chosen black."
-- Amos lays it on the line, in The Witchfinder.
And no private eye is probably as red, white and blue as Loren Estleman's Detroit gumshoe AMOS WALKER. To me, pesky upstart foreigner that I am, nobody -- but nobody -- sums up the spirit of the classic American hard-boiled dick -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- the way Walker does. I may get ticked off at the guy, and disagree about his politics, but bedrock level, there's something decent and good and true in Walker that to me sums up everything that is good about the place.
So it's great that in 2007, with the nineteenth novel in his acclaimed series, Estleman has finally stopped beating around the bush and stepped forward to claim the title many of us have been waiting to bestow upon Walker for a long, long time: American Detective.
Don't get me wrong. Walker is definitely a throwback to another time, an unapologetically old-fashioned, defiantly politically-incorrect gumshoe -- but it could certainly be argued that that's part of his charm. It often seems sometimes he has no use for anything since WWII. That includes feminists, liberals, gun control, civil rights, foreign cars, television, non-smokers, etc., etc., etc. He's a hard-drinking, chain-smoking tough guy who "dresses like the late show" and is twice as tough as he talks, which is plenty tough. He can also be an incredible pain in the ass -- just ask the authorities. He's always bitching about something, be it women or pollution or seatbelts or whatever. This guy's not so much a cynic sometimes as an uncompromising crank -- the Oscar the Grouch of private eyes. And the real kicker is that he's not even forty! Sometimes you just wanna shout "Lighten up, Amos!"
But crank or not, these books pack a hell of a wallop. Estleman knows his stuff, and the nasty side of Motor City comes alive as Walker straps on his gun and heads out on those mean streets he knows and loves to hate so well. And, despite his bitterness, Walker's an interesting piece of work. A former college boxer, with a degree in socialogy. A veteran of Vietnam and Cambodia and three years of service stateside in Military Intelligence. A promising police cadet kicked off the force before he could join it. (He punched out a big shot's son in the police academy showers) A real loner, with a taste for old movies and a real disdain for fictional private eye heroes with moral codes. Not that he's any less bound by his own set of rules; he just doesn't like to talk about it.
Walker's creator, Loren D. Estleman, makes no bones about it -- he's not writing about reality; he's in "the hero business."
Estleman's considered by many to be one of the best contemporary private eye writers around, and he's been nominated and won several Shamuses over the years. In fact, as of 1998, he's the most Shamus-nominated writer of them all. He's also responsible for the adventures of sleazeball P.I. Ralph Poteet, as well as a series that traces Detroit crime from the thirties to the present. And lately, he's been tinkering with a new series of short stories featuring Valentino, a film detective who tspecializes in tracking down rare films for UCLA's Film Preservation Department. Estleman also writes westerns and has won the Western Writers of America's Spur Award a couple of times. And he's been nominated for more Shamuses than you can shake a stick at.
Another part of the charm of the Walker mysteries is his keen sense of place. It turns out Estleman knows even more about Detroit than Walker does, as evidenced in his ambitious, sprawling series, originally optimistcally called the Detroit Trilogy, which is now numbered at seven books. In these books, Estleman attempts nothing less than the entire history of modern Detroit, from the Prohibition-era building of organized crime right up to the present.
As always, like Walker himself, Estleman doesn't really offer anything fancy or trendy, but he gets the job done.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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