The Hours of the Virgin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Hours of the Virgin, Loren D. Estleman continues his mastery of the hardboiled detective genre. An ex-newspaperman and highly prolific writer of over forty novels, Estleman unleashed Detroit “private eye” Amos Walker on the world in 1983 with the publication of Motor City Blue. The Hours of the Virgin is the thirteenth book in the series. In the expansive world of contemporary P.I.'s, Estleman's Amos Walker novels have been among the cream of the crop. They are distinguished by their careful homage to the tradition of the P.I. story (especially the work of Raymond Chandler), stylish prose, and highly evocative descriptions of Detroit. In these respects, The Hours of the Virgin is fully the equal of its predecessors.

The plot of The Hours of the Virgin is suitably complicated. Walker is hired by a client to help recover a medieval “illuminated” manuscript, long thought destroyed, that had surfaced at the Detroit Institute of Art only to be swiped for ransom. An exchange is arranged but goes awry. Walker's client disappears. A couple of murders take place, at least one of which may be linked to the ten year old murder of Walker's mentor and former partner. By the time things have been sorted out, readers have been given a jolting look at human nature, cavorted with the higher and lower economic depths of American society, and had a splendid real life tour of Detroit in the 1990's.

The Hours of the Virgin is well-written and will be riveting for most fans of the genre. The resolution is sophisticated, both intellectually and emotionally. Whether it is believable will depend on how much license the reader wishes to extend in return for several hundred pages of cleverly conceived suspense.