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by Loren Estleman
Forge, May 2004
288 pages
ISBN: 0765304481

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Loren Estleman is simply the best in the field. He is the writer of classic private eye fiction, up there with anyone you can name and maybe out-writing them all. His Amos Walker books have a feel to them like almost no other writer in crime fiction today and they're a treat.

Walker's a traditional private eye; he works alone, lives alone, has a few friends he's loyal to and knows people from every walk of life. In RETRO, he's asked by a old acquaintance, Beryl Garnet, a former madam, to find her son. She hasn't seen Del since he fled to Canada to avoid the draft in the 1960s, but she's dying and wants to know he will have her ashes. No big deal, right? It's not like Del is exactly hard to find, even if he was, at one time, on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

The cynicism in these books really appeals to me, whether it's the realities of the FBI's self-promotion (says a former FBI guy, they never put anyone on the list unless they knew exactly where the so-called fugitive was, so they could use the arrest for the sake of publicity) or the fact that sometimes good guys aren't and bad guys aren't so bad. The PI always surprises; when you think you have him pegged as a working class sorta guy, who knows what he knows and doesn't like fancy, he'll show you he is familiar with everything from classical music to fashion to politics; he just can't be bothered.

Estleman excels at delineating interesting characters (like former 'sob sisters' Edie Van Eyck or Llewellyn Hale, a Canadian he farms some work out to -- and I hope we see more of him; nice touch). Then there's dialogue, which Estleman uses always to show character. Here, Walker's old friend, journalist Barry Stackpole is considering a Hollywood gig, a true crime reality show, which would pay him tons of money.

"Why'd you turn it down?"

"Who says I turned it down?"

"You did. You're too good a writer to abuse the past tense."

"I turned it down. Thy wanted me to wear a trenchcoat."

"You don't have a trenchcoat."

"I could always borrow yours."

"I don't have a trenchcoat."

"No shit? What do you wear to those foggy assignations on the waterfront?"

And Walker replies "Kevlar". He's all too aware that he's not exactly mainstream, not exactly modern; he still won't get computerized (he knows Stackpole loves looking stuff up).

It's just right; there's not a false note in the book. Whether Walker's looking at the details of two deaths, decades apart which appear to be connected or talking to a modern-day gangster ("venture capitalist" the guy insists) he connects. He spots small clues, brings things to light, sees people as they really are, often in spite of the convincing stories they've told.. Loren Estleman rocks.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, May 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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