Loren D. Estleman (b. 1952) is a Detroit native and award-winning author. Cutting his teeth on westerns, Estleman has written over 25-westerns including a series starring U.S. Deputy Marshal Page Murdock. In the mid-80s, the author launched a series of high-octane action novels about a mob hit-man named Peter Macklin. However, Estleman's most praised literary work is his Amos Walker mystery series. The character was first introduced in 1980's Motor City Blue and has remained a highly-regarded character through 28-books. Unfamiliar with Walker, I started at the beginning.
Motor City Blue introduces readers to Amos Walker, a three-year veteran of the Vietnam War who experienced intense action in and around Cambodia. After Vietnam, Estleman became an MP and then later joined a Detroit police academy as a civilian. After being fondled in the shower by another trainee, Walker defensively beat-up the man and was booted from the academy. His next career choice was simply a private-eye gig which he does well. In the series debut, Walker is 32-years old and will age as the series progresses.
The novel's opening pages finds Walker working an assignment for an insurance company. Armed with a camera and a Smith & Wesson, Walker is photographing a man who may be faking an injury for claim money. But while working the assignment, Walker witnesses his old Army Captain being thrust into the backseat of a sedan by two burly men. Walker calls his best friend, Police Lieutenant John Alderdyce, to report the incident. It's an early, key event that plays a large role in the story's finale.
Later, Walker is summoned to meet a former mob boss named Ben Morningstar. The elderly retired gangster hires Walker to track down and locate a young woman named Marla. Morningstar raised Marla and had been financing her college expenses only to learn that she abruptly dropped out. Since then, she's seemingly disappeared and Morningstar doesn't trust the police to search for her. Morningstar shows Walker a photo of Marla that indicates that she has entered the sleazy world of pornography – either voluntarily or against her will. It's up to Walker to find Marla and determine just how she finds herself working in the smut industry.
Motor City Blue is an enthralling mystery that features many of the private-eye tropes that have been utilized since the 1940s. Estleman isn't reinventing the genre and never proclaimed to be. He's just presenting readers the traditional PI formula, a procedural investigation done by a valid, sarcastic hero who uses a police friend and ally for tips and tricks. Estleman's placement of the entire series in Detroit is fitting considering the author's scholarly knowledge of the city and its history. Using the cold, blue-collar city streets, Estleman has a wide canvas on which to draw. In Motor City Blue, the author submerges readers into the porn industry, complete with smut shops, adult theaters, sleazy trailers and the criminal elements often found on that side of the tracks.
Amos Walker may be the best of the 1980s private-eye characters. As an early introduction to the character (and author), readers unfamiliar with the series should start here. With a spiraling mystery, action fans should still appreciate the gun-play and fisticuffs employed by the hero. It's an absorbing read that has gained acclaim for good reason.
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