Friday, August 31, 2007

HELP 8: Retro

The HELP has reached Estleman's 2004 novel about Detroit PI Amos Walker, which means I'm almost caught up -- only two more novels to go.

This is another Ross Macdonald-style plot, mixing a 1949 murder with one in the modern day. (And, of course, the two are very closely linked.) Neither of the murders actually take place in Canada, but there is a strong Canadian connection, which is required in the pure Ross Macdonald special.

Walker is hired by a dying whorehouse madam (retired) to deliver her ashes to her adopted son, who disappeared in the late '60s after getting caught up in an anti-government group and briefly appearing on the FBI's Most Wanted list. She dies, Walker gets the ashes, and the son turns out to be in Canada, not too far away and not too hard to find.

But then, of course, things get complicated: that modern murder I alluded to above happens, and both a county cop and a New York mobster get interested in Walker for different reasons. There's even an old-fashioned gangster's moll, who turns to Walker for help. (But, if you look at that title again, you'll see that Estleman is not unaware of what he's doing.)

The Amos Walker novels from Forge so far are not terribly ambitious, as if Estleman has decided that the audience for such "retro" books is minor and so he needs to conserve his energy. They're still pleasant mysteries, but there's now a self-consciousness in their old-fashionedness, as if Walker isn't really in the modern world at all, but is just pretending. I don't think Estleman needs to give him a wisecracking, computer-savvy sidekick (in fact, I'd strongly argue against it), but I do think Walker himself needs to engage in the modern world.

Walker is a PI much in the mold of Macdonald's Lew Archer: he has no apparent hobbies, family, or friends outside of work. It's not simply that we only see him at work; we see that work is all there is of him. I'm not saying that Estleman needs to completely break away from that paradigm, but...Walker has been around for nearly thirty years and twenty books, so it's high time for him to have something in his life besides the latest murder.

No comments:

Post a Comment