In the 20th book in Loren D. Estleman's Amos Walker series, the Detroit detective faces a serious dilemma. Lucille Lettermore, a bull dog of a defense attorney known as "Lefty Lucy" because she specializes in defending unsympathetic clients, most often against the government, is attempting to free Joey Ballistic, a mobster known for his penchant for blowing things up. Joey's about to do a long stretch in prison as a repeat offender and Lucy's legal strategy is to get Joey's very first conviction overturned. This will bring down the rest of his convictions like a row of dominos and Lettermore wants to hire Amos to help overturn the first conviction.
The problem is that Joey's first conviction was for setting off a bomb that blew the leg off of Barry Stackpole, a journalist who made his reputation by investigating mobsters. Stackpole also just happens to be Amos Walker's best and, as a practical matter, only friend. Walker hesitates for about thirty seconds before taking the case anyway. Things are slow, as they always seem to be for Amos, and he rationalizes the decision by convincing himself that he's really doing his friend a favor. If Joey wasn't actually responsible for the bomb that seriously injured Stackpole, then perhaps Amos can find The Real Bomber.
Walker's first step is to try to identify the confidential informant who pointed the police in Joey's direction in the first place. But as soon as Amos begins digging into the old case, it quickly becomes apparent that he's stirred up a hornet's nest and that the old case maybe isn't so cold after all. The action picks up quickly and the bodies start piling up all around Walker.
Amos Walker is a classic, hard-boiled detective out of the Old School of crime fiction, and he's been prowling the mean streets of Detroit for a long time now. In these books, Estleman has been especially good at describing the ongoing decay that has been eating away at Detroit since the 1960's, and I've enjoyed reading all of the books in the series. I enjoyed this one as well, but not to the extent I expected because I had great difficulty buying into the premise.
Walker and Barry Stackpole have been close friends for a long time, and Stackpole has often been Amos's go-to guy for info on the mob and other such subjects. The fact that Amos would so easily agree to help an attorney who is attempting to free the man who crippled Stackpole and nearly killed him just didn't sit right with me. It didn't seem like something Amos would do, and I had a hard time buying into the idea that, of all the detectives in Detroit, Lettermore would ask Stackpole's closest friend to assist in this task. On the other hand, though, none of the other detectives in Detroit have someone as capable as Loren D. Estleman chronicling their adventures and so from the readers's standpoint, it's a good thing she did. My reservation about this one issue notwithstanding, this continues to be one of the best detective series out there.