Tuesday, September 11, 2018

P. I. Amos Walker Is Back on the Mean Streets of Detroit in this Novel from Loren D. Estleman

Published in 2014, this is the twenty-fourth entry in Loren D. Estleman's venerable series featuring Detroit P.I. Amos Walker. The first, Motor City Blue, appeared in 1980, and even back then, Amos was the last of the true hardboiled detectives of the Old School--wise cracking, world weary, constantly running afoul of the cops, but dedicated to his mission and to his clients. 
Thirty-four years later, the guy has seen it all. Even worse, he's experienced it all. He's been beat up, shot, and thrown to the side of the road so many times that a lesser man would have never survived. But he keeps plugging along, nonetheless. 

Walker has not aged in real time, but he has aged, and if anything, the Mean Streets of Detroit have gotten even meaner. As this book opens, he's just out of rehab, recovering from addiction to booze and pain pills. He's contacted by Ray Henty, a lieutenant in the County Sheriff's Department, who's been temporarily placed in charge of the corruption-riddled police department in the suburb of Iroquois Heights. 

A man named Donald Gates has been murdered in the basement of his home, and the department has made no progress in solving the crime. Someone unhappy with the pace of the investigation has put up billboards around the city shouting "You Know Who Killed Me," prodding the police to act. To make matters worse, someone, acting through a local church, has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. (This plot will, of course, sound familiar to those people who have seen the movie, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," but it's worth noting that this book was published three years before the release of the movie.)

The billboards and the reward have put a lot of pressure on the police. They've also brought a ton of calls to the tip line and someone has to sort through them. Henty hires Walker to listen to the calls and try to discover if there's anything useful there. Henty emphasizes that Walker is not supposed to be investigating the murder himself; he's only to listen to calls. But you don't have to be a regular reader of this series to guess how well those instructions are going to work.

Before long, Walker is up to his neck in the case, which turns out to be hugely complex, involving Ukrainian mobsters and a lot of other unsavory types. Other murders will follow, and Walker himself will be in serious jeopardy from a variety of sources before this all plays out.

One might argue that this plot ultimately winds up being way too convoluted for its own good, but after all this time, Amos Walker has become a very old friend and it's always fun to check in and watch him chase down a case as only he can. Readers who have somehow missed this series might be better off checking out some of the earlier books, but fans of the series will not want to miss this one.

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