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General Murders

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Amos Walker’s specialty, as he notes himself, is missing persons; whatever the nature of the case, he excels at putting together the diverse pieces of a mystery and coming up with the right solution--right under the reader’s nose. In true Chandler style, Walker is a one-man private detective firm operating out of a seedy office on the wrong side of town, his only concession to modernity a beeper that works when he remembers to buy batteries. He is street smart, perpetually poor, and highly ethical. Before the reader can wonder what else is new, he is gripped from page one and the question dies unasked. Estleman’s portrayal of Walker is simply very realistic; his cases are seamless and their solutions uncontrived.

In “Greektown,” Walker must solve a serial killing, but with a twist. “Robbers Roost” and “Bloody July” have their origins in Prohibition era Detroit--with long-term side effects. “Fast Burn” involves an old man who inconveniently is not murdered, while “Dead Soldier” is a modern tragedy with roots in Vietnam. In “Eight Mile and Dequindre” and “Blond and Blue,” Walker gets caught in the middle of Mob-related problems. “Bodyguards Shoot Second” is about what happens when rock stars fade. “The Prettiest Dead Girl in Detroit” is a very dead hooker. “I’m in the Book” is a chilling case of a missing wife. The plot lines would be hackneyed in the hands of a lesser writer, but Estleman takes them and shapes them anew without making one false step. Even the punches ring true (Estleman once said that with a name like Loren he grew up fighting). When Walker solves each case the reader has seen everything he has; indeed, the stories are all written in the first person. Not one solution, however, is given away.

Walker’s one-liners are a wicked delight. One can smell Detroit--its smog, concrete, and decay. The evil is all the more real because it is not exaggerated. Estleman published his first Amos Walker mystery in 1980 and has since become one of the most respected writers in the private-eye genre. This collection is a fine way to meet Amos Walker if one has never read Estleman before; if one has, it is sweet icing on the cake.