So after mourning in passing the announcement of Detroit's bankruptcy in mid July, I was eager to find a book by an author recommended by a guy I'll call Joe V. over on another blog. He recommended the Amos Walker series of Loren Estleman because of their Detroit setting.
Until quite recently, and for a long time, I worked in a bookstore, and had more than a passing acquaintance with the mystery section there. Estleman's name was quite familiar to me, but somehow I had never gotten around to him. There are a lot of authors like that in the book biz--you think you know something about them, simply because you've noticed them on the shelf. Sometimes the fact that they are prolific, and Estleman is prolific, works against them--you tick it off as you shelve it as "another Estleman". It's a fairly neutral thought, but all the same you've written the author off without really stopping to examine why.
But I was wrong about not being interested in Estleman, as I often am about authors I haven't read yet, but have somehow managed to categorize anyway. Silent Thunder was an absorbing read. Amos Walker is a Chandlerian sort of detective, but never seems derivative. In this book he hired to help keep Constance Thayer from being imprisoned for the murder of her husband, which she has already confessed to. Seems like a bit of a longshot of a case, but that doesn't stop Walker from taking it. The fact that her husband turns out to have been storing an unholy amount of weaponry in the basement does make it seem she may have a fighting chance.
One of the rewards of genre fiction that non-genre readers don't understand is that a long running series, whatever the ups and downs of individual books, gives a writer a long time to focus on the object of his or her interest. Quite often, one of those interests is place. So we have Tony Hillerman's evocative Navajo mysteries set in the Four Corners region of Arizona and New Mexico, and Janet Evanovich's comic Stefanie Plum series sending a love letter to Trenton, New Jersey (it would have seemed unlikely until she did it, but that's what talent's for). And then there is Estleman's sustained meditation on Detroit. Perhaps it's only from this perspective that the writing seems elegiac. Even when this book came out in 1989, there was a sense that the glory days of a great city had long since passed.
One of the great things about having a private detective as a protagonist is that they do get around. Amos Walker crosses many lines in his circumnavigations of the city and environs. One thing that surprised me, though it shouldn't have, is that just outside this industrial city is farm country. I say it shouldn't surprise me because much the same is true of Chicago, with which I am more familiar. Estleman also gives us a nice gradation of the different suburbs surrounding the harsher city core.
Unlike many recent bestsellers, where action counts and good writing not so much, Silent Thunder gives us many beautifully observed passages without letting the pacing suffer. He has a wonderful descriptive style, that gives us many nicely delineated portraits of the many characters that come and go throughout the book. I'd say that these portraits are not particularly generous to women, but then they aren't particularly generous to men either.
Silent Thunder is the ninth in this long running series (Estleman is currently up to number 22), but as Joe V. said, it doesn't really matter where you start. Just grab one and plunge right in.