A Smile on the Face of the Tiger

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Eugene Booth has not published a new novel in over thirty years, but Louise Starr wants to republish his most famous book, Paradise Valley, a fictional treatment of a 1943 Detroit riot that left several African Americans dead. After agreeing, Booth suddenly changes his mind and disappears. Starr hires private investigator Amos Walker to find him.

Walker, hero of thirteen earlier novels by Loren D. Estleman, is himself a throwback to the tough-guy heroes depicted in the pulp fiction of Booth’s era. As Estleman indicates in his dedication, A Smile on the Face of the Tiger is a worthy tribute, in both lurid subject and economic style, to such pulp writers as David Goodis, Mickey Spillane, and Cornell Woolrich.

Walker discovers that Booth stopped writing after his wife was murdered and finally locates him, learning that the writer has begun a new version of Paradise Valley, intending to tell the truth about the Detroit police’s part in the riot. When Walker finds Booth hanging from the ceiling of his motel room, he has two murders to solve.

A Smile on the Face of the Tiger is made vivid by a string of colorful characters. Lowell Birdsall, Jr., the son of the artist who illustrated the covers of Booth’s books, lives in an apartment crammed with 1950’s memorabilia. The larger-than-life Fleta Skirrett posed for Birdsall and now is restrained in a nursing home. Glad Eddie Cypress is a supposedly retired hit man on a book tour for his account of his bloody career. Estleman cleverly ties together these characters with the resolutions of the murder cases, though the motivation for one killing is not as convincing as he assumes.