I think I have read that the PI novel, the hard-boiled novels of Chandler and Hammett were a turning away from the artificiality and unrealistic novels of the Golden Age authors. I won't argue that the hard-boiled novels of the 30s and 40s are realistic portrayals of someone's life somewhere, but I have had no experience with criminals and most of the people I know haven't had any connection with this sort of life.
Anyway, to get to this novel. Amos Walker currently works for an insurance agency, following up on claims to verify if they are legitimate. His assignment is to check out a man who was injured and now cannot walk without canes and braces on his legs. And to get evidence if he is trying to cheat the insurance company.
As often happens in this type of novel, the everyday work Amos does is interrupted by other more exciting cases. Two events happen on the same day. He sees an old acquaintance and is witness to him being taken away forcefully by some sleazy looking characters. And then, an old gangster who is semi-retired calls him in to find his missing ward, the daughter of his deceased partner. Ben Morningstar is someone you don't say no to, so he ends up working for him.
The plot gets very complicated. There are a couple of policemen who are decent, but beyond that almost the only likable character is our hero, Amos. He is a decent guy, but he lives and works in a sleazy world filled with crooked and sometimes very evil people.
You could say this is a little bit beyond my comfort level in a mystery novel, but I enjoyed it regardless. The writing was beautiful and the author kept me engaged in the story. This was a book I couldn't put down once I got to the last 100 pages (out of about 250). There were the standard metaphors but not enough to take me out of the story. I did not find the story any more (or less) believable than the police procedurals or thrillers I read. There were some very interesting characters portrayed without resorting to stereotypes.
One thing that makes this book special is that the author is obvious a lover of movies, especially old movies. Humphrey Bogart movies are mentioned a lot, and Amos has a conversation about movies with the gangster's black driver.
How did this book reflect life in 1980? Well, the setting is Detroit after the riots. The character never says, but I assume he is referring to the 1967 riots. He talks in passing about the effect of the riots and the changes in the city since then. There are connections to the music industry. Relationships between blacks and whites are portrayed. I don't know much about the history of this area, before or after 1980, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of the book. However, the author lives in Michigan near to Detroit, and has written another crime fiction series known as the Detroit Novels. So I am guessing he gets it right.
There are a lot of good quotes from the book, which is another way I can tell a good book.
The first lines...
Faces from the past are best left there. If, two hundred odd pages from now, you agree with me, this will all be worthwhile.Walker describes himself this way:
I'm thirty-two years old. I was raised in a little town you never heard of about forty miles west of here. I've a bachelor's degree in sociology; don't ask me why. I tried being a cop, but that wasn't for me, so I let myself get drafted. The army taught me how to kill things and sent me out to do it. I liked almost everything about it except for the uniform, so when I got out, I looked for a way to do the same thing without wearing one.A reference to one of my favorite movie and TV stars, Roy Rogers:
I hurled myself sideways toward the mutilated mattress at my left, the idea being to land on my shoulder, twist and fire, maybe hitting something worthwhile, maybe not. I hadn't a hell of a lot to lose by trying.
It did not work, of course. Tricks like that never do, unless you wear spangled buckskins and own a horse named Trigger.Will I be reading more of the series? For sure. There are several other series to try, also. See this list of all of Estleman's works, which includes crime fiction, westerns, and non-fiction.
This book is my choice for 1980 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1986. Orig. pub. 1980.
Length: 248 pages
Series: Amos Walker, #1
Setting: Detroit, Michigan
Source: My husband found this for me in San Jose, CA, Nov. 2005.