August 06, 1990 12:00 PM

by Loren D. Estleman

Estleman is a lesser-known but equally adept practitioner of the same craft as Parker, having built a successful series around that hardy perennial of mystery fiction, the hard-boiled detective. Estleman’s gritty gumshoe is Amos Walker, who has less of a personal life than Spenser but is every bit as quick with a quip or wry observation. Walker’s turf is Detroit, whose mean streets somehow seem better suited to the genre than those of Spenser’s Boston.

This is Walker’s 10th outing. Unlike Parker and his bare-bones plotting, Estleman weaves intricate story lines. Here Walker is hired as a bagman (or so he thinks) by Gail Hope, an ex-screen sexpot in such movies as Beach Blowout and V-8 Vampires. “They tell me you’ve got guts for rent,” says Gail. (People don’t really talk like that, but it makes for fun reading.) Soon Walker is mixed up with his ex-wife and caught between a pair of government operatives intent on doing each other in.

When the plot gets too complicated—which it does—the reader is advised to lean back and savor the language. Money is called “tall cotton” or “long folding.” There’s a simile for every occasion: “They’d track me down like a pencil in a drawer,” frets one character. “By day,” Walker says of a dingy nightclub, “it all seemed kind of tired, like a trick-or-treater on November first.” And a hospital corridor has “linoleum as tough as a night nurse.”

After a particularly productive morning of sleuthing, Walker rewards himself with a big lunch at a seafood restaurant. “The business has its days,” he muses. “It’s the years you want to watch out for.”

Well, Loren, the reviewing business has its days too, and this novel, my friend, generated one of the most enjoyable. (Houghton Mifflin, $18.95)

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