Monday, December 13, 2010

Murder, mayhem take over Detroit

Two recent novels by award-winning Whitmore Lake author Loren D. Estleman offer a variety of reading pleasure.

While his latest crime novel takes place primarily on the crime-ridden streets of Detroit, his other highly entertaining tale is set mostly in the 1800’s, exploring an unusual 20-year relationship.

“The Left-Handed Dollar” (Forge, $24.99) is the twentieth novel in the last 30 years starring Amos Walker, a tough Detroit private investigator.

Short on funds, Walker takes a job from “Lefty Lucy” Lettermore to investigate an old case that severely injured Walker’s best friend, investigative reporter Barry Stackpole.

Mob figure Joseph Michael Ballista was sent to jail years earlier for the car bombing. Lettermore wants Walker to track down an informant and look into other aspects of the crime.

Walker faces a number of challenges, his friendship with Stackpole is at risk; he uses a variety of sources to gather information. When the body count rises, Walker knows he’s got real problems – he may be the next target of a crafty killer.

Estleman, one of America’s best crime novelists, has produced a nifty, well-plotted, hard-boiled tale that’s rife with mayhem and murder.

Die-hard gumshoe fans may also enjoy “Amos Walker, The Complete Story Collection” (Tyrus,$32.95) which includes a brand new short story in the hefty, 600 page book.

“Roy & Lillie” (Forge, $24.99) is a step in a different direction, focusing on the unusual romance between notorious Texan Judge Roy Bean and beautiful British stage actress Lillie Langtry.

Estleman has carefully crafted a fascinating dual biographical novel of the distinctive pair, who corresponded for 20 years but never met while both were alive.

It showcases their wildly differing lifestyles, with Langtry rising to be adorned by high British society while Bean was gaining notoriety as “The Hanging Judge”.

Deftly exploring their lives, Estleman alternates chapters as he focuses on their unusual behavior, personal relationships and amazing careers.

The well-researched novel includes appearances by assorted royalty, playwright Oscar Wilde and artist James McNeil Whistler, as well as cameos by Bram Stoker, John Barrymore and many others.

Many western scenes are vividly described, relating Bean’s unique lifestyle and uneven type of frontier justice.

This smooth, intriguing combination of fact and fiction works well on a number of levels; Estleman is a superb storyteller with remarkable insight.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 12, 2010.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.

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