Friday, August 24, 2007

HELP 3: Never Street

Estleman had a big gap between 1990's Sweet Women Lie and 1997's Never Street, so it's appropriate that it took me five days (and a family vacation) to get to the end of Never Street, adding my own gap.

Never Street brought Amos Walker back after Estleman had spent half a decade mostly writing his big Detroit novels, and it began the second stretch of Walker books, of which there have now been nine, at mostly yearly intervals. (Since there were ten novels and a short-story collection in the first burst of Walker books, the series is almost but not quite symmetrical now.)

This is the point in the series where other characters start bluntly pointing out that Walker is an anachronism, and Estleman starts hanging his plots from that assumption. In this book, Walker is hired by the wife of a documentary filmmaker to find her missing husband, who has apparently taken his obsession with '40s film noir way too far, and may have lost his marbles. (Estleman even organizes the novel into four sections, using film terms that don't entirely correspond to the action of the book.)

Never Street is also notably longer than the previous books; it clocks in a bit north of 300 pages. Even given that I read it in mass-market, it's still about 25% longer than the earlier books. (And the narrative shows it; the first plot seemingly peters out at the end of the second section, to be replaced with a second, related case in what might be a homage to The Long Goodbye or might show that Estleman is struggling slightly to get Walker's plots up to the length his publisher wants.)

Walker is still a grumpy bastard, but his dialogue is all conversational at this point; the hardboiled non sequiturs that cropped up occasionally in the earlier books are now gone. (Oh, he's still a fifteen-minute egg -- that hasn't changed -- but he doesn't crack wise for no good reason any more.) And Estleman's plots are still detailed, intricate, and a joy to follow. There even is a strong, relatively positive female character in this one, though it looks like she won't be returning. (And Walker's main contact on the Detroit PD is switching from his old friend John Alderdyce, now an Inspector, to Mary Ann Thaler, his protege and a new Lieutenant -- she doesn't do all that much in this book, but she becomes a more important, and positive, female character in the subsequent books.)

I still would hesitate before recommending this series to female readers, but it's one of the very best traditional hardboiled PI series running in the modern day. And Walker is a real person with a real personality (along certain genre-accepted lives, given) who gets involved in some tricky, well-plotted cases. So I'd better go and keep reading the second half of my stack of Walker novels!

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