"Have you noticed how often the word 'retro' occurs in today's advertising?" a white-shoe lawyer muses in Loren D. Estleman's Retro. "It's used to sell everything from ballpoint pens to wings of hospitals. These days, backward is the new forward." Which clues you in right away to the plot orientation of this short-fused 17th novel (after Poison Blonde) featuring Detroit private eye Amos Walker, a character who's always been nostalgic for the era of mobsters and molls and dialogue gritty enough to chip teeth.
Estleman here reaches all the way back to his first Walker book, 1980's Motor City Blue, in order to resurrect Beryl Garnet, a once-prominent whorehouse operator with a laugh "like Tinkerbell on crank," now in residence at an assisted-living facility. She hires the detective to find her not-too-bright adopted son, Delwayne, and make sure that he's given her ashes after she dies. Trouble is, Delwayne has been on the lam ever since his association with a 1968 plot to blow up the Detroit Federal Building in protest against the Vietnam War. Months later, and with the assistance of a vintage FBI agent and a politely proficient Canadian PI, Walker pins down his quarry in Toronto and hands over the late madam's "cremains." But Delwayne isn't satisfied; he wants our hero's help in solving the 1949 shooting death of his unacknowledged father, Curtis Smallwood, a black heavyweight boxing champ whose affair with a white Hollywood s! tarlet threatened her career. When, soon after this, Delwayne is murdered in a supposedly secure Detroit airport hotel--with the same .38 revolver that killed his father more than five decades before--Walker goes digging for answers. Along the way, he unearths a New York gangster's grandson, a mother with a record-setting case of hate, an overeducated mistress with leaving on her mind, and an electronic bug in his office that takes all the fun out of talking to himself.
Nobody these days outperforms the three-time Shamus-winning Estleman when it comes to penning wisecracking repartee--a reminder of the American detective story's deep roots in pulp fiction. ("Are you afraid of the police?" a would-be client asks, to which Walker responds: "Terrified. Theyre armed and they drink a lot of coffee.") Yet, while the Amos Walker series upholds many genre traditions, it has also grown beyond them, both as a result of the author's finely honed prose and Walker's willingness to recognize himself as an anachronism. A melancholy appreciation of the Motor City's often unsavory history just adds to the attractions of Estleman's work. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
Reading a new Amos Walker adventure is like settling down and listening to an old, reliably entertaining friend. In this 17th book in the series (after 2003's Poison Blonde), Beryl Garnet, a dying madam, summons the Detroit detective to find her long-missing son, Delwayne, to whom she wishes to leave her ashes. Since Delwayne fled to Canada during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Amos gets a Canadian counterpart to trace him. Soon after Amos meets the son, he winds up dead, and Amos becomes the main suspect in his shooting death. Amos later discovers that Delwayne's dad, a talented black boxer, was murdered in the 1940s—and a single gun killed both father and son. A sucker for damsels in distress, Amos encounters more than one as he digs down into the muck for the real murderer. Estleman keeps Walker determinedly low-tech: he goes to the library, pores over records and does his own legwork. He riffs on the city and gently ribs Canadian culture across the river. Why does Amos drive to Toronto? It's a chance for him to smuggle back a box of alleged Cuban cigars, a longstanding Motor City tradition. In the process of setting things right, Amos has to let go of some old and new attachments, leaving the reader eager for more.
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