Created by Loren D. Estleman
“When they say Detroit’s coming back, they don’t mean you’re coming with it.”
— When Old Midnight Comes Along
“The world’s black and white, good and bad, no matter what you hear. The people who say it isn’t have already chosen black.”
— Amos lays it on the line, in The Witchfinder
When it comes to cultural icons, literary division, you can’t get much more red, white and blue than the hard-boiled private eye, born and bred in the U.S.A.
And no current private eye is probably as red, white and blue as Loren Estleman’s Detroit gumshoe AMOS WALKER. To me, pesky upstart foreigner that I am, nobody — but nobody — sums up the spirit of the classic American hard-boiled dick — the good, the bad and the ugly — the way Walker does. He’s a big, throbbing, turbo-charged V8 in a Chandler coupe, running pedal to the metal. I may get ticked off at the guy, and occasionally disagree with his politics, but bedrock level, there’s something decent and good and true in Walker and his bi-partisan skepticism and deliberate contrariness that sums up everything that is good about the place.
So it’s great that in 2007, with the nineteenth novel in his acclaimed series, Estleman finally stopped beating around the bush and stepped forward to claim the title many of us have been waiting to bestow upon Walker for a long, long time: American Detective.
Don’t get me wrong. Walker is definitely a throwback to another time, an unapologetically old-fashioned, defiantly politically-incorrect gumshoe — but it could certainly be argued that that’s part of his charm. It often seems he has no use for anything since WWII. That includes feminists, liberals, gun control, gun nuts, civil rights, politicians, foreign cars, modern cars, cellphones, television, non-smokers, etc., etc., etc. But he’s an equal opportunity crank — he spits on both sides of the glass. He’s a hard-drinking, chain-smoking tough guy who “dresses like the late show” and is twice as tough as he talks, which is plenty tough. He can also be an incredible pain in the ass — just ask the authorities. He’s always bitching, snapping out wisecracks worthy of Chandler about something, be it women or pollution or seatbelts or whatever. This guy’s not so much a cynic sometimes as an uncompromising crank — the Oscar the Grouch of private eyes. And the real kicker is that through much of the series he’s not even forty! Sometimes you just wanna shout “Lighten up, Amos!”
But crank or not, these books pack a hell of a wallop. Estleman knows his stuff, and the nasty side of Motor City comes alive as Walker straps on his gun and heads out on those mean streets he knows and loves to hate so well. And, despite his bitterness, Walker’s an interesting piece of work. A former college boxer, with a degree in socialogy. A veteran of Vietnam and Cambodia and three years of service stateside in Military Intelligence. A promising police cadet kicked off the force before he could join it. (He punched out a big shot’s son in the police academy showers) A real loner, with a taste for old movies and a real disdain for fictional private eye heroes with moral codes. Not that he’s any less bound by his own set of rules; he just doesn’t like to talk about it.
Walker’s creator, Loren D. Estleman, makes no bones about it — he’s not writing about reality — he’s in “the hero business.”
Estleman’s considered by many to be one of the best contemporary private eye writers around, and he’s been nominated and won several Shamus Awards over the years, and is actually one of the most Shamus-nominated writers of them all. He’s also responsible for the adventures of sleazeball P.I. Ralph Poteet, as well as a series that traces Detroit crime from the thirties to the present. And lately, he’s been tinkering with a new series of short stories featuring Valentino, a film detective who tspecializes in tracking down rare films for UCLA’s Film Preservation Department. Estleman also writes westerns and has won the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award a couple of times.
Another part of the charm of the Walker mysteries is his keen sense of place. It turns out Estleman knows even more about Detroit than Walker does, as evidenced by his numerous standalones and his ambitious, sprawling series, originally optimistcally called the Detroit Trilogy, which is now numbered at seven books. In these books, Estleman attempts nothing less than the entire history of modern Detroit, from the Prohibition-era building of organized crime right up to the present.
As always, like Walker himself, Estleman doesn’t really offer anything fancy or trendy, but he gets the job done.
Straight From the Author’s Mouth
- “I’d like to take the opportunity, thanks to Kevin Burton Smith’s article “Eyewitness: Ripped from the Pages of The P.I. Social Calendar!,” (Fall 2003, Mystery Scene) to set the record straight on his characterization of Amos Walker, the Detroit private investigator I’ve been writing about for twenty-three years.
Although I’ve always been grateful to Kevin for the attention he’s given Walker and me through his Thrilling Detective Web Site, I’ve also been troubled by his comments that Walker is ill-tempered, and I see he continues the canard in his article.
Walker is disappointed that the human race never rises to his expectations, is wistfully sad about it, and often sardonic; but he has never been heard to grouse about it, or for that matter offer his opinion for or against anything until pressed by the circumstances of the plot…
Kevin is also under the impression that Walker wears a fedora. I only mentioned the damn hat in Motor City Blue, the first book in the series, in 1980; it was November in Michigan, hats are indispensable in retaining body heat, and as I never wear ugly knitted caps myself, I thought a snapbrim would be more stylish. I think he wore some kind of hat in none or two other early entries, but there was always a weather excuse. He’s gone bareheaded for a generation.
I invite Kevin to re-read two or three Walkers and see if he hasn’t mixed up the character with Larry Block’s dour Matt Scudder. My detective is a genial fellow, always grinning.”
–Loren Estleman, in a letter to Mystery Scene #82
- “Faces from the past are best left there. If, two hundred pages from now, you agree with me, this will all be worthwhile”
— Amos kicks off the series in typical “up yours” fashion in Motor City Blue
- “By the time the first ambulance arrived, the air was cool enough to breathe. It smelled like fried liver.”
— Amos (barely) survives the crash landing and subsequent explosion of an airplane transporting stolen human organs, in American Detective.
- “If it weren’t for concussions I wouldn’t get any sleep at all.”
— Amos responds to a suggestion that he see a doctor after he’s slugged (again) in The Left-Handed Dollar.
- Motor City Blue (1980, finally released 1983) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Angel Eyes (1981) | Buy this book
- The Midnight Man (1982) | Buy this book
- The Glass Highway (1983) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Sugartown (1984) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Every Brilliant Eye (1986) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Lady Yesterday (1987) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Downriver (1988) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Silent Thunder (1989) | Kindle it!
- Sweet Women Lie (1990) | Kindle it!
- Never Street (1997) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Witch Finder (1998) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Hours of the Virgin (1999) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- A Smile on the Face of the Tiger (2000) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Sinister Heights (2002) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Poison Blonde (2003) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Retro (2004) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Nicotine Kiss (2006) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- American Detective (2007) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Left-Handed Dollar (2010) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Infernal Angels (2011) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Burning Midnight (2012) | Buy this book..Kindle it!
- Don’t Look for Me (2014) | Buy this book | Buy the audiobook | Kindle it!
- You Know Who Killed Me (2014) | Buy this book
- The Sundown Speech (2015) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- The Lioness is the Hunter (2017) | Amos Walker) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Black and White Ball (2018) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- When Old Midnight Comes Along (2019) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Cutthroat Dogs (2021) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- City Walls (2023) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- “Robber’s Roost” (April 1982, Mystery Magazine)
- “Dead Soldier” (September 1982, AHMM)
- “Fast Burn” (May 1983, AHMM)
- “Greektown” (August 1983, AHMM)
- “The Prettiest Dead Girl in Detroit” (1984, The Eyes Have It)
- “Eight Mile and Dequindre” (May 1985, AHMM)
- “Bloody July” (1985, New Black Mask #1)
- “Major Crimes” (March 1986, AHMM)
- “Blond and Blue” (1986, New Black Mask #4)
- “I’m in the Book” (1986, Mean Streets)
- “Dogs” (May 1987, AHMM)
- “People Who Kill” (1987, Prime Suspects)
- “Bodyguards Shoot Second” (1987, A Matter of Crime #1)
- “The Crooked Way” (1988, A Matter of Crime #3)
- “Cigarette Stop” (1990, Justice for Hire)
- “The Man Who Loved Noir” (February 1991, AHMM)
- “Snow Angels” (1991, Invitation to Murder)
- “Safe House” (1992, Deadly Allies)
- “Deadly Force” (November 1922, EQMM)
- “Slipstream” (1994, Deadly Allies II)
- “Double Whammy” (Fall 1998, MHCMM)
- “Redneck” (1999; also 2002 reprint edition of The Midnight Man)
- “Necessary Evil” (2000, The Shamus Game; also 2002 reprint edition of Sugartown)
- “The Anniversary Waltz” (2001, The Mysterious Press Anniversary Anthology)
- “The Woodward Plan” (2001, Mystery Street)
- “Sunday” (2002, reprint edition of Downriver)
- “Square One” (November 2006, AHMM)
- “Trust Me” (June 2007, AHMM)
- “Needle” (October 2007, AHMM)
- “Rumble Strip” (November 2009, AHMM)
- “Sometimes a Hyena” (2010, Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection)
- General Murders (1989)
- Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection (2010) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Loren Estleman’s Official Website
A great site covering all of Loren’s stuff, including both his detective and western stuff, by his wife, Debi Morgan, fellow writer and former editor of the PWA newsletter.