Monday, August 27, 2007

HELP 5: A Smile on the Face of the Tiger

2001's Amos Walker mystery was the fourth from Mysterious Press, and the first this century. It also marks the halfway point in HELP; I have five more novels after this one.

Downriver had a backstory involving the 1967 Detroit race riots, but Smile goes further back to the 1943 race riots, and a (I presume fictional) hero cop who emerged then. Walker is hired by a devastatingly sexy female book editor from New York (I fear he's indulging in the most obvious stereotypes here) to find a missing author. Eugene Booth wrote a bunch of pulpy paperback originals in the '40s and '50s, the best of which, Paradise Valley, was a fictionalization of the '43 race riots and which the sexy editor had a contract to republish. Booth apparently changed his mind, and then disappeared.

There's also a reformed Mafia hitman in the book; he turned state's evidence, ratted on his bosses, and is on tour with a book about his life and murders. Walker searches for Booth, finds the hitman, and then things get complicated.

This turns into another Ross Macdonald-esque novel, with a murder from twenty years ago in Canada fifty years back becoming entangled in new deaths. As always, Walker solves the various cases.

I don't know how many different ways I can say it: Estleman is old-fashioned, but in the best ways, like a big 'ol muscle car, all solid steel and gleaming chrome. He doesn't take the hardboiled idiom to the point of parody (like Spillane and his ilk), and doesn't exactly update it to the modern day, but he does set his stories in the real world, among real people committing real crimes, and uses that structure to probe the limits of what people are capable of under pressure. And A Smile on the Face of the Tiger is another darn good Amos Walker novel.

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