From the Publisher
“Estleman proves conclusively that there's plenty of life left in the contemporary hard-boiled subgenre.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Left-Handed Dollar
“The latest Walker novel features all the selling points that have made the series a touchstone for fans of hard-boiled crime fiction: irrepressible tough-guy dialogue, great plotting, vibrant Detroit milieu, and a hero who has whiskey on his breath and nicotine stains on his fingers.” Booklist on The Left-Handed Dollar
“Estleman's latest intricate and wholly enjoyable yarn is peppered with mob lore, Detroit history, and the ever-present one-liners. It is sure to please fans of urban mysteries as well as classic detective genre devotees. Strongly recommended.” Library Journal on The Left-Handed Dollar
“Estleman, one of America's best crime novelists, has produced a well-plotted, hard-boiled tale that's rife with mayhem and murder.” Lansing State Journal on The Left-Handed Dollar
“Estleman delivers some outstanding stuff on the hazards of the profession, including a bone-chilling stakeout on a lonely lake in the dead of night, that could come only from an old pro.” The New York Times Book Review on American Detective
“Estleman turns Amos Walker loose in a plot and it's pure private eye all the way. In a great tradition, the gumshoe with an attitude. No one does it better.” Elmore Leonard, bestselling author of Get Shorty on American Detective
“Loren D. Estleman is one of a handful of candidates for the title of true heir to Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. He is a great 'American Detective' writer.” Max Allan Collins, bestselling author of Road to Perdition on American Detective
“Estleman's prose is as gritty and compelling as ever as he lets fly razor-sharp dialogue, brings the Motor City to life and combines a whodunit plot with traditional noir action.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on American Detective
“Normally I'm a voracious plot reader, burning through the pages for the action, but here, though the plot is nicely twisty, I'm more than happy to slow down enough to take in the scenery, colored by Amos' snappy comebacks and observations based on the bigger half of a life lived in other people's problems. Highly recommended.” GumshoeReview.com on American Detective
Shamus Award–winner Estleman demonstrates that the art of inserting a Philip Marlowe–esque hero into modern times is alive and well in his 21st novel featuring Detroit PI Amos Walker (after 2010's The Left-Handed Dollar). Reuben Crossgrain, proprietor of Past Presence ("Everything you require for the Modern Regressive Lifestyle"), hires Walker to recover 25 TV converter boxes that allow the owner to watch HDTV on an analog set, although the total value of the loss isn't much more than Walker's standard retainer. The detective hits the pavement to identify the likely recipients of the hot items, and his digging soon attracts the attention of ex-Detroit police detective Mary Ann Thaler, who now works in D.C. on homeland security. As the bodies start to drop, Estleman presents a powerful view of the battered inner city, where federally funded housing ends up derelict. Three decades on, Estleman and Walker show no signs of slowing down. (July)
Few authors could write a gripping crime novel about the theft of HDTV convertor boxes in Detroit; but if the tale is told by esteemed noir writer Estleman, sit back and enjoy the ride. Motown's most cantankerous gumshoe is back in his 21st novel, and he's never been more irrepressible or caustic. When Amos Walker (The Left-Handed Dollar) gets a tip on a client looking to recover some stolen convertor boxes, he signs on for a few days work. What follows is the uncovering of a heroin smuggling ring that turns an easy case into a federal investigation. Throw in the widow of an infamous crime boss, dead junkies, and Walker's increasing dependency on Vicodin, and you've got yourself a great story. VERDICT While this mystery can be read as a stand-alone, it is more enjoyable when the reader is familiar with the cast of characters from past adventures. Gritty and full of depressing facts about an American city that has seen better days, this would strongly appeal to fans of Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and other authors of hard-boiled detective fiction.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph P.L., MI
Estleman composes still another hymn to Detroit, with Amos Walker soloing for the 21st time (The Left-handed Dollar,2010, etc.).
Detroit PD Sergeant Mansanard is that rarest of rare birds, a cop who likes Amos Walker. Likes him well enough to recommend him to a certain R. Crossgrain, whose retro-looking business card promises: "Everything you require for the Modern Regressive Lifestyle." Even someone as astute as Walker, arguably Detroit's most literate P.I., has trouble translating that from gnomic to English, but he gets the gist. Crossgrain markets to the technologically challenged. Driven by the obligatory cash-flow problems, Walker pockets the card and calls on Crossgrain, who explains that a recent break-in has left him suddenly short 50 television converter boxes. What matters most about these boxes, it turns out, is they're hollow, a design feature eminently useful to career smugglers. In due time, it becomes clear to Walker that along with the converter boxes, a substantial amount of high-grade heroin is also missing. The bad guys who once owned it want it back, and they propose to fill body bags with obstructionists. Though Walker would prefer not to be numbered among these, he puts his own attitude succinctly: "Whenever I'm faced with a problem, I identify it, analyze it, and make it bigger."
Formulaic, to be sure, but steadfast marchers in Walker's army are not likely to complain.
Read an Excerpt
Nothing ever wakes you up from a nightmare, have you noticed?
If you’re dreaming of eating strawberries or cutting a ceremonial ribbon or dining with Julia Roberts, you can depend on the alarm or the telephone or a hand on your shoulder to bust in before the payoff, but if your teeth are falling out or a grizzly is charging you, you’re in for the duration.
For a week I’d been chasing a car with a car chasing me, and then someone miscued and we all smashed up with me in the middle. I heard rubber howl and metal scream and the squishy crunch of bones breaking and when I woke up I tasted blood.
The latest collision was the same as all the rest. I came out of it with my leg hurting, a low-grade ache that would turn into hours of teeth-grinding agony if I didn’t catch it early. I took two Vicodin, chewing them to streamline their way into my circulatory system. The leg always lets me know when a solstice is coming. If you’d rather get that from a calendar, duck the next time someone shoots at you.
There was no sleep until the pills kicked in, and then only the same nightmare. I went into the kitchen, but there wasn’t enough coffee left in the can to open one eye.
It was a little short of four A.M. I pulled on a sweatshirt, mildewing jeans from the hamper, and a pair of sneakers, fired up the four-barrel, and drove between canals of dead leaves, crossing intersections where the signals blinked yellow. Away out in space the aircraft warning light on top of the Penobscot Building pulsed on and off, as distant as the Big Dipper. On one corner a man dressed exactly as I was sat on the curb among his duffels and tattered trash bags, eating something from a greasy paper cupped in both hands. He appeared to own more things than I did. These are the thoughts you think at that hour. They can’t be healthy.
A few corners down from there a Walgreen’s sat in a fluorescent blaze with a handful of cars drifted up against the building. I slid in beside a handicap space, passed through the sliding door, and heard my first Christmas carol of the year on the PA. It was late October and the center aisles were crowded with Halloween costumes and talking skulls.
An orange electric cord snaked between displays of candied peanuts and Trojans, at the end of which a man in blue coveralls was pushing a floor buffer as slowly as if he were sifting for land mines. I walked around him and turned the corner toward the pantry section. The midnight blue uniform of a Detroit patrol officer caught my eye by the tail. He was standing near the pharmacy counter with his back to the rest of the room, staring up at the convex mirror mounted in the corner near the ceiling. The attenuated reflections of the scattered customers slid across the surface, but he didn’t appear to be interested in the ones that were moving. He was focused on a skinny figure with his hands buried in the pockets of a hooded gray sweatshirt standing behind a woman being waited on at the counter near the door.
The cop was very big, very black, and I’d had business with him in the past, mostly of the friendly kind. His name was Sergeant Mansanard, but he’d been a detective lieutenant when we’d first met, which was too close to get to the chief when the administration changed. Now he pushed a cruiser through some of the city’s worst neighborhoods, frequently without a partner because the mayor had had to cough up a nine-million-dollar settlement for unlawfully terminating a number of Mansanard’s fellow officers for taking their oath too literally, and that had led to layoffs.
“You look like you was shit by a pigeon.” He didn’t glance away from the mirror. He’d probably seen me coming all the way from the parking lot.
“That’s good,” I said. “Can I use it?”
“Ask my watch captain. I got it from him.”
I joined him in the stakeout. We didn’t talk police business because voices carried among all those reflective surfaces.
The scrawny kid, if that’s what he was, put in a workout just standing there, twitching his shoulders and rolling his head on his neck and flexing his fists in his pockets. They opened onto a pouch that went across the front of his sweatshirt. It wasn’t long enough for a sawed-off shotgun, but pistols and revolvers come in all sizes. The woman in front of him, twice as broad in a red coat with a monkey collar, had heaped a stack of men’s shirts on plastic hangers on the counter and the clerk went through them one by one, scanning the tags and removing the hangers. I’d have fidgeted, too, but the weather was too mild to pull your hood up over your ears; that’s like a cloak of invisibility where surveillance cameras are concerned.
I was starting to feel sorry I’d left the .38 at home. Coffee prices weren’t so high I’d figured I’d need it.
At length the woman in the coat wrote out a check and the clerk processed it through his machine and stuffed the shirts in a plastic bag and Gray Hood stepped up and asked for a box of Marlboros. His tone fell somewhere between a mumble and silence. When the clerk asked for ID he took both hands out of his pockets. Mansanard’s thumb slid over the blunt hammer of the Beretta in his holster.
The pouch collapsed without support. The clerk peered at the driver’s license in the customer’s wallet and took a box off a shelf behind him.
Mansanard relaxed, but I stayed tense until money changed hands and the kid left.
“He might’ve implied he had a weapon,” I said.
“That only works in banks. I wish I had more banks on my beat. Clerk’s Korean. If he don’t have a mag at least under that counter his people would cast him out. We’ll just wait a bit. He might’ve been casing the place.”
“After showing ID?”
“If it wasn’t fake, maybe he don’t plan to leave the clerk in shape to remember it.”
Three minutes went by, and one transaction. They seemed longer. The sergeant turned my way with a grin. “That’s like a half hour in perp time,” he said. “They don’t have the attention span to follow a pie fight. Looks like the republic’s safe for a little longer. How are you, Amos, still reading room registers?”
“There’s no money in that in a no-fault divorce state.” I shook his hand. It could have wrapped twice around mine, a white pig in a black blanket, but the grip was barely there. The really big dogs hardly ever feel the need to show their teeth. “They got you on drugstore detail now?”
“Oh, hell, no. I just come in for a juice box. Funny, I thought about calling you tonight.”
“No boxes, sorry. I drink straight from the bottle.”
“This is work, maybe the paying kind.” He looked around. “Care to sit in the cruiser? These places give me the willies, especially at night. All the bad guys are out there in the dark and here you and me sit like a couple of Big Macs under a heat bulb.”
“I didn’t see a cruiser out front.”
“I parked out front, the scroats would just go to the next place down the road and stick it up. Might as well make myself useful.”
“A little, now they’re moving out of that dump downtown. I still got mold in my lungs.” He coughed into his fist by way of demonstration; something rattled deep in his chest. “I don’t miss timing my trips to the can so’s I don’t run into the chief. Now when nature calls I just radio it in and stop at a party store. Let’s go out and sit in the bucket.”
“As long as my friends don’t see me.”
“What friends you got, what’re the odds?”
We made our purchases and walked around the building to where he’d left his black-and-gold unit next to a Dumpster. Inside, the equipment jammed between the front seats crowded us against the doors: onboard computer, two-way radio, fax machine, piano bar. The winking green and red and amber lights cast his face in opalescent glow, piling shadows under the stony ridge of his forehead and in the hollow of his chin. When he pierced his box of grapefruit juice with a plastic straw and drew on it, the sides caved in and the corners of his police-issue moustache nearly touched. “What you taking for the leg, Demerol?”
“Vicodin. I didn’t think I’d limped.”
“You was trying too hard not to. I take Demerol for the back. They never will learn how to design these seats for no eight-hour tour.” He slurp-slurped. “I’d hate to have to bust you some night for possession.”
“So far it’s legal. I’ve got an understanding doctor.”
“That’s what the suburbs are for. Working late?”
“Not working lately. Business picks up around Devil’s Night.”
“Teenage runaways, mine. All you’ve got to worry about’s vandalism and arson.”
“Scraphounds now, too. Strip the copper plumbing out of empty houses, pry up manhole covers, snatch bronze angels from cemeteries and sell ’em to salvage yards. Dig the fillings out of your teeth if you pass out at a bus stop. Whole city’s got a bad case of metal-eating termites. If they could get to the suspension cables on the Ambassador Bridge we’d have to swim to Canada.”
“There’s always the tunnel.”
“I’ll take my chances in the water, not under it.”
I drummed my fingers on the top of the coffee can in the plastic bag in my lap. “Scavengers, is that the job?”
“That’s my job. Man can gripe, can’t he?” He took a business card out of a pocket of his leather tunic and held it out between his first and second fingers.
I took it. It was glossy red with gold letters. I had to turn it this way and that in the reading light to cut the glare. Mansanard siphoned grapefruit juice as I read.
“Everything you require
for the Modern Regressive Lifestyle”
R. Crossgrain, Prop.
I turned it over. The back was blank. It was as spare as mine: no fax, cell, Web site, e-mail; just the street address and a landline. It was a collector’s item. “What’s the modern regressive lifestyle?”
“I ain’t just sure, but I think you’re living it.”
I got the rest of what I needed and then his straw gurgled and he crumpled the box in one fist and drove around to my car to save wear and tear on the leg, dropping the box in a curbside container on the way. I thanked him and we separated. Driving away I couldn’t shake the feeling I was still dreaming and heading toward that same triple smashup I’d been dreaming about for a week.
I never got the chance to tell Sergeant Mansanard what came of his tip. Four months later, on a mission to buy something flimsy for his wife for Valentine’s Day, he walked in on an armed robbery in the Victoria’s Secret store in the Fairlane Mall in Dearborn and took a slug through the heart before he could get to his holster.
Copyright © 2011 by Loren D. Estleman