Retro, by Loren Estleman
St Martin’s Press £5.99 pbk , ISBN 0765343738
Walker has been around a long time.
appeared in 1980, and 24 years later, Retro became the 17th novel, and
book in the series. Another,
Kiss, has since been published in hardback in the USA
of the golden age of private eye revivals, which perhaps began with
and included Roger Simon, Jonathan Valin, Michael Z Lewin, Stephen
and many many more. What
setting, a very hard Detroit,
and the tone, which was very much that of a working man doing his job. The job of private eye is
not a glamorous
one, nor is it the kind of thing whose skills can be learned ay
Walker has always been
a six-pack of beer and working class kind of guy, working among cops
the same. You might
say only crime and
lawyers truly transcend the class divide, even in America.
Estleman is a prolific writer,
perhaps the heir to another Detroiter, Elmore Leonard, for the way he
succeeded in keeping his hand in the western genre.
His Page Murdock series, like the Walker
seems well attuned to the realities of the social settings of its time. Even better, he has done a
stand-alone westerns which have been well-crafted, mood pieces. The Master Executioner
(2001) carries a real
emotional impact, and would not be out of place on anyone’s
list of the best
crime novels of that year.
Walker is also unique in that he is
aging, if not completely accurately, as least gracefully, and Retro is
ways an indulgence of that. Aging
problem with any prolific series.
‘solved’it by aging Spencer and Hawk in dog years,
while aging Spencer’s dog
Pearl in human years. But
the Walker of
Retro is someone who’s been around long enough to understand
the retro elements
of the crime, been around long enough to perhaps wonder where his
led, and is leading him to. In
to find the long-lost adopted son of a dying Detroit
one of those last relics of the golden age of old-time Detroit. Walker
finds the son, who’s been living in Toronto
dodging the draft and the FBI in the sixties.
He delivers the mother’s ashes to the boy, and
thinks his job is
over. The boy knows
who his real father
was, a black boxer who was a lightweight contender when he was shot
he wants Walker
to investigate that unsolved murder.
the son turns up dead in a Detroit
hotel, where Walker
just happens to have had a meeting scheduled.
You can fill in the rest from there, but you
won’t do as good as job as
Estleman does, blending a fifty-year old crime with a recent one. The sons of gangsters and
the mothers of
sixties radicals who blew themselves up all figure in, as does the
effrontery of boxer Curtis Smallwood.
The sins of the past come back to haunt us today, and
Walker, who may
have seen much of it, and remembers much of what he didn’t
see, copes with it
through sheer persistence and that kind of working ethos which often
have vanished with fedoras for men and gloves for ladies.
Estleman is endlessly inventive with the
familiar elements of the private eye genre, but he’s also
realistic than most writers. His
deserve more attention, indeed, to be in print, in this country. And
worry about going back to 1980, Retro is as good a place as any to