Thursday, September 06, 2007

HELP 10: American Detective

Hornswoggler's Estleman Loren Project, that very quixotic enterprise, ends with this book, the most recent in the "Amos Walker" series. American Detective was published in hardcover by Forge in April, so it's probably still in your local book store if you run out right now to grab it.

First of all, I have to mention that Walker has a cell phone for at least part of this book (though Estleman does the usual old-fart gag of having Walker struggle with the manual, and not really understand how to use the phone), and realizes he needs access to a computer at another point. So Walker is, slowly, finding his way into the 21st century (and Estleman is reacting to my thoughts about the last book before I had them, too).

That title worried me a bit, I have to admit. Naming an entry in a long mystery series "American Detective" could mean several things, few of them good:
  • no one associated with the book could think of a decent title
  • the author and publisher nearly came to blows about title suggestions, and this is the compromise candidate
  • someone expects this to be the last book in the series
  • someone hopes that '70s staple, the generic book, is about to make a comeback
Now, American Detective isn't a bad title. It does sound more like a magazine than a book title, and it certainly has a whiff of the generic, but that can work. In this case, it doesn't have much to do with the plot. One character makes the common observation that Walker is a throwback, and mentions that there once was an "American Detective" magazine, but that's it. (On similar grounds, nearly every PI novel in this country could have been titled American Detective for the past forty years.)

But the plot in this particular book starts when ex-Detroit Tigers pitching great Darius Fuller hires Walker to scare off his only daughter Dierdre's ne'er-do-well boyfriend Hilary Bairn, before Deirdre turns twenty-five and gets her trust fund. As usual for Walker, things do not go as planned, and he hasn't even spoken with Bairn before the first body falls at his feet. Bairn was involved somehow with gambling and organized crime -- presumably starting in the old familiar way of losing too much money in an unlicensed casino -- so Walker tracks down Madame Sing, a Dragon Lady-type who runs much of the gambling (and people smuggling, and so on) in the Detroit area. And things just get more complicated from there, of course. This one again has an over-the-top ending in the vein of Sinister Heights -- an airplane is the setting, this time -- but it all does come together pretty well by the time it's all over.

And I just read ten mysteries from the same series in a row, and still like the series -- so, if you have any interest at all in hardboiled American PI stories, give one of these books a try.


Anonymous said...

Ages ago, I read all of the Ellery Queen novels in publication order.

It was fascinating watching the changes in Ellery over the decades.
& the changes in Queen's hometown of NYC.

Michael Walsh

Unknown said...

What do you mean by a generic book? Apparently I missed reading any...

Andrew Wheeler said...

Nadine: In the late '70s or early '80s, when the "generic packaging" look was popular in supermarkets, one publishing company (Berkley) did a series of generic books.

There was Science Fiction and Romance and Western, and probably a few more; none had author information, and all had deliberately generic plots. The books all had white covers with the title in black block letters.

The SF novel was reportedly written by John Silbersack; you can find them used on places like ABEbooks by searching on the title "science fiction" and author "silbersack."

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