28 July 2013

The Detroit PI

“A. Walker Investigations” is the opening sentence in the short story “Bodyguards Shoot Second” in Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection. Amos is Estleman’s Detroit PI. 

I sometimes choose books from catalogs based on the title or the name of the author. In this case, the name of the sleuth was what attracted me to Estleman’s collection. Rather irrationally, I expected a PI named Amos to be easy going with a deceptive personality plying his trade in a small southern city, or in the open spaces of Texas. Then I opened the book. Surprise, Amos is a hardboiled gumshoe with a wry sense of humor whose turf is the menacing streets of Detroit.

Loren Estleman
Loren Estleman
Estleman, a prolific writer of detective and western fiction, has been nominated for and won a load of awards. In addition to Amos Walker, he created two other detective series featuring professional detectives Ralph Poteet and Valentino. Amos first appeared in his 1980 novel Motor City Blue. The 33 stories in the collection were written in various magazines between 1982 and 2010. As I read 15 of the stories for this post, I felt Estleman was channeling Raymond Chandler (no pun intended), one of his favorite writers, because the wisecracking Amos reminded me so much of Philip Marlowe.  Reading the stories and finding fault with some but enjoying them made me think about my tendency to over analyze, which interferes with my suspension of disbelief. 

One aspect of detective stories that always puzzles me is the need for the shamus to work free. In “Fast Burn,” an ex-Ford auto plant employee dies of natural causes sitting in the chair in Amos’s office before he can tell Amos his problem. Amos, though he will collect no fee, investigates anyway because the dead man “came looking for help with something. I’d like to know what it was.” Okay, but working for free doesn’t pay his bills.

“I’m In The Book,” shows Amos is as tough as his hardboiled predecessors. Since his “main specialty is tracing missing persons,” a rich man hires him to find his wife. The ending didn’t surprise me since I expected it. What surprised me was Amos slaps the smart-mouthed former maid when she gives him some lip and refuses to answers his questions. Up until this story, I pictured him as a hardboiled gentleman and not likely to hit a woman. Of course, some of those predecessors not only hit women but killed them too. 

Although it was appropriate, I didn’t like the ending of “The Anniversary Waltz.” Geraldine Tolliver, daughter of a woman who escaped prison 8 years ago and is presumed dead, believes her mother, Adelaide, is alive and hires Amos to tell her to give herself up when she appears at Geraldine’s father’s grave on their silver anniversary. The problem is a sheriff who doesn’t believe Adelaide is dead has been watching Geraldine. He takes Adelaide into custody when she shows up. Amos later finds the Sheriff’s car with him in the trunk, dead. Adelaide  has an IQ of 160, and apparently had no problem  outwitting the sheriff. I know Amos, the narrator, couldn’t know how she got loose from the sheriff, so, I was forced to use my imagination and, of course, over analyzed the story. Sorry about the spoiler.

Amos even taught me some new words. In “Deadly Force,” homicide Lieutenant Alderdyce asks Amos did he “Get a hinge at the sapper?” Translation: did he see who hit him over the head? A bad guy in “People Who Kill” plunged “kiyoodling” down an elevator shaft. Does it mean he fell head over heels or was screaming as he fell?

Estleman’s defines short stories as “miniatures, where flaws of any sort are immediately obvious.” His miniatures, flaws and all, are worth the effort of reading. Unfortunately for me, he has written so much that I’ll never be able to read all of his novels and stories, though I wish I could because I feel I’m on a first name basis with Amos. Who wouldn’t be with a name like that? 

I wonder what Amos would think about Detroit today? 


  1. Louis, I read this over my Sunday morning bagel, caffeine and cigar. And, it was the perfect accompaniment. I found your story reviews soothing, yet exciting (I have no idea how that’s possible – but it’s true!), and your mention of finding certain faults actually had the odd effect of making me wanting to read Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection right away.

    Thanks for the great “Head’s up!” buddy, and for an enjoyable Sunday morning interlude.


  2. Good column, Louis. I'm crazy about Estleman, so I'm glad to hear about this collection of stories. Amazon, here I come . . .

  3. Dix,
    A cigar for breakfast? Glad you enjoyed the article.

    I’m thinking of buying some of his western novels and the other detective novels, but first I’ll have to clear an entire shelf because he has written so much.

  4. A cigar for breakfast?

    Of course, a cigar for breakfast, Louis.

    I thought that was Standard Operating Procedure for mystery lovers/writers. Wasn’t there a famous Agatha Christie quote in which she said: “Two cigars with morning tea do help the ham and eggs go down smoothly, I’ve always felt.”

    I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere. Maybe in the National Inquirer? LOL

  5. I have to add Estleman to my reading list.

    A willingness to investigate a case without being paid comes about in a couple of ways. Obviously, no detective work, no story. Other than working to avoid sheer boredom from a sporadic business, I think it’s used to show character, that a detective will ‘do the right thing’ no matter what. You see this in The Maltese Falcon when Sam Spade looks into the death of a partner he didn’t particularly like.

    Made-up works are interesting, although I picture kiyoodling almost as a cowboy term. But yeah, I can picture a guy kiyoodling tush over teakettle screaming as he plummets down an elevator shaft. Quite a hideous scene!

    Louis, yesterday I came across this pictorial about Detroit, both the good and the bad. Makes we think what Rome must have been like when it fell into decay.


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