Loren D. Estleman

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Date: 2020
Document Type: Biography
Length: 6,306 words

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About this Person
Born: September 15, 1952 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Novelist
Updated:Jan. 21, 2020
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born September 15, 1952, in Ann Arbor, MI; son of Leauvett Charles and Louise Estleman; married Carole Ann Ashley (a marketing and public relations specialist), September 5, 1987 (marriage ended); married Deborah Morgan (a writer), 1993. Education: Eastern Michigan University, B.A., 1974. Memberships: Mystery Writers of America, Author's Guild, Western Writers of America (vice president and president-elect, 1998), Private Eye Writers of America, Napoleonic Association of America. Addresses: Home: Whitmore Lake, MI. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary, 146 W. 82nd St., # 1A, New York, NY 10024.

 
CAREER:

Writer. Michigan Fed, Ann Arbor, MI, cartoonist, 1967-70; Ypsilanti Press, Ypsilanti, MI, reporter, 1973; Community Foto-News, Pinckney, MI, editor in chief, 1975-76; Ann Arbor News, Ann Arbor, special writer, 1976-77; Dexter Leader, Dexter, MI, staff writer, 1977-80. Has been an instructor for Friends of the Dexter Library, and a guest lecturer at colleges. Judge for literary awards, including the University of Michigan Hopwood Award.

 
AWARDS:

New York Times Book Review notable book citations, 1980, for Motor City Blue, and 1982, for The Midnight Man; Golden Spur Award for best western historical novel, Western Writers of America, 1982, for Aces & Eights; Pulitzer Prize in letters nomination, 1984, for This Old Bill; Shamus Award, 1985, for novel Sugartown, and 1986, for short story "Eight Mile and Dequindre"; Golden Spur Award for best western short story, 1986, for "The Bandit"; Michigan Arts Foundation Award for Literature, 1986; Shamus Award for Best Short Story, 1989, for "The Crooked Way;" Michigan Library Association Author of the Year Award, 1997; Shamus Award for best short story, 2004, for "Lady on Ice"; Spur Award, 2006, for the Undertaker's Wife; Michigan Author's Award, Michigan Library Association, 2007; two American Mystery Awards, Mystery Scene magazine, for best private eye novel: Downriver, and best crime novel: Whiskey River; two Outstanding Mystery Writer of the Year awards, Popular Fiction Monthly; two Stirrup Awards, for outstanding articles in the Western Writers of America magazine; the Roundup award; three Western Heritage Awards, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, for Journey of the Dead, The Master Executioner, and the short story "Iron Dollar"; Best Living Fiction Writer citation, True West magazine, 2007; Notable Book Award, Library of Michigan, 2007, for Nicotine Kiss; Elmer Kelton Award, German Association for the Study of the Western, 2008, for significant contribution to western literature; Barry Award for best mystery short story, 2010, for "The List"; Lifetime Achievement Medal, Arts Alliance, Ann Arbor, MI, 2016.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

  • The Oklahoma Punk (crime novel), Major Books (Canoga Park, CA), 1976.
  • Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula; or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count (mystery-horror novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978, Titan Books (London, England), 2012.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (mystery-horror novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Titan Books (London, England), 2010.
  • Red Highway, PaperJacks, 1988.
  • Peeper (mystery novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Sweet Women Lie, Thorndike Press, 1990.
  • Sudden Country, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
  • Crooked Way, Eclipse (New York, NY), 1993.
  • City of Widows, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1994.
  • The Judge, Forge (New York, NY), 1994.
  • The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.
  • The Hours of the Virgin, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
  • White Desert, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.
  • The Undertaker's Wife, Forge (New York, NY), 2005.
  • The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion, Forge (New York, NY), 2006.
  • Gas City, Forge (New York, NY), 2008.
  • The Branch and the Scaffold: A Novel of Judge Parker, Forge (New York, NY), 2009.
  • Roy & Lillie: A Love Story, Forge (New York, NY), 2010.
  • The Perils of Sherlock Holmes, Tyrus (Avon, MA), 2012.
  • The Confessions of Al Capone, Forge (New York, NY), 2013.
  • Ragtime Cowboys, Forge (New York, NY), 2014.
  • The Ballad of Black Bart, Forge (New York, NY), 2017.

"VALENTINO" SERIES

  • Frames, Forge (New York, NY), 2008.
  • Alone, Forge (New York, NY), 2009.
  • Alive!, Forge (New York, NY), 2013.
  • Shoot, Forge (New York, NY), 2016.
  • Brazen, Forge (New York, NY), 2016.

"AMOS WALKER" MYSTERY SERIES

  • Motor City Blue, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1980.
  • Angel Eyes, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1981.
  • The Midnight Man, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1982.
  • The Glass Highway, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1983.
  • Sugartown, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1984.
  • Every Brilliant Eye, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.
  • Lady Yesterday, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1987.
  • Downriver, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.
  • General Murders (short-story collection), Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.
  • Silent Thunder, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1989.
  • Never Street, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Witchfinder, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.
  • A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Sinister Heights, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Poison Blonde, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Retro, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.
  • Nicotine Kiss, Forge (New York, NY), 2006.
  • American Detective, Forge (New York, NY), 2007.
  • Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, Tyrus Books (Madison, WI), 2010.
  • The Left-Handed Dollar, Forge (New York, NY), 2010.
  • Infernal Angels, Forge (New York, NY), 2011.
  • Burning Midnight, Forge (New York, NY), 2012.
  • Don't Look for Me, Forge (New York, NY), 2014.
  • You Know Who Killed Me, Forge (New York, NY), 2014.
  • The Sundown Speech, Forge (New York, NY), 2015.
  • The Lioness Is the Hunter, Forge (New York, NY), 2017.
  • Black and White Ball, Forge (New York, NY), 2018.
  • When Old Midnight Comes Along, Forge Books (New York, NY), 2019.

"PETER MACKLIN" MYSTERY SERIES

  • Kill Zone, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Roses Are Dead, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Any Man's Death, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Something Borrowed, Something Black, Forge (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Little Black Dress, Forge (New York, NY), 2005.

WESTERN NOVELS

  • The Hider, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Aces & Eights (first book in historical western trilogy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
  • The Wolfer, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Mister St. John, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.
  • This Old Bill (second book in historical western trilogy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Gun Man, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Bloody Season, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
  • Western Story, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Billy Gashade, Forge (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Journey of the Dead, Forge (New York, NY), 1998.
  • The Master Executioner, Tom Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Black Powder, White Smoke, Tom Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 2002.
  • The Long High Noon, Forge (New York, NY), 2015.

"PAGE MURDOCK" WESTERN SERIES

  • The High Rocks, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Stamping Ground, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
  • Murdock's Law, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.
  • The Stranglers, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Port Hazard, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.
  • The Book of Murdock, Forge (New York, NY), 2010.
  • Cape Hell, Forge (New York, NY), 2016.
  • Wild Justice, Forge (New York, NY), 2018.

"DETROIT" SERIES

  • Whiskey River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Motown, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
  • King of the Corner, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
  • Edsel, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Stress, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Jitterbug, Forge (New York, NY), 1998.
  • Thunder City, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.

OTHER

  • The Wister Trace: Classic Novels of the American Frontier (criticism), Jameson Books, 1987, 2nd edition published as The Wister Trace: Classic Western Fiction, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2014.
  • The Best Western Stories of Loren D. Estleman, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1989.
  • (Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg) P.I. Files, Ivy Books (New York, NY), 1990.
  • (Editor) American West: Twenty New Stories, Forge (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Writing the Popular Novel: A Comprehensive Guide to Crafting Fiction That Sells, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 2004.
  • Amos Walker's Detroit (nonfiction), photographs by Monte Nagler, Painted Turtle/Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 2007.
  • (Editor) Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Tyrus (New York, NY), 2013.
  • (Editor) The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes, Tyrus Books (Blue Ash, OH), 2014.
  • Detroit Is Our Beat: Tales of the Four Horsemen, Tyrus Books (Blue Ash, OH), 2015.
  • Desperate Detroit: And Stories of Other Dire Places, Tyrus Books (Blue Ash, OH), 2016.
  • Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe, Tyrus Books (New York, NY), 2017.

Contributor to numerous anthologies. Contributor to periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery magazine, Baker Street Journal, Fiction Writers, A Matter of Crime, Mystery, New Black Mask, Pulpsmith, Roundup, Saint, TV Guide, Writer, and Writer's Digest.

 
MEDIA ADAPTATIONS:

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). One of Estleman's western novels has been optioned by a California film company.

 

Sidelights

Loren D. Estleman has crafted an increasingly popular series of mysteries around the character of Amos Walker, a witty and rugged Detroit private investigator who recalls Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Kathleen Maio in Wilson Library Bulletin wrote that she considered the series "one of the best the hard-boiled field has to offer." "Walker is the very model of a Hammett-Chandler descendant," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Newgate Callendar. "He is a big man, very macho, who talks tough and is tough. He hates hypocrisy, phonies and crooks. He pretends to cynicism but is a teddy bear underneath it all. He is lonely, though women swarm all over him."

Walker made his debut searching the pornographic underworld of Detroit for the female ward of an aging ex-gangster in Motor City Blue. In Angel Eyes, a dancer who anticipates her own disappearance hires Walker to search for her. Walker encounters a contemporary bounty hunter in his pursuit of three cop killers in The Midnight Man. In The Glass Highway Walker is hired to locate the missing son of a television anchor and must contend with a rampaging professional killer.

Walker disappeared for most of the 1990s as Estleman worked on other projects, then made a comeback in Never Street after an eight-year hiatus. Never Street spins an intriguing and self-reflexive tale by setting up a mystery based on one character's obsession with the classic film noir Pitfall. Estleman refers to plot devices and conventions of the film noir genre as well as scenes from the actual movie as the mystery unwinds. New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Stasio applauded Walker's return, saying that he has come back "just in time to slap some sense into a genre that's getting dumber and dumber by the minute."

A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, published in 2000, features Walker as he searches for writer Eugene Booth, a noir novelist from the fifties who vanished for a number of years, reappearing briefly to sue a publisher who had reprinted one of his works in defiance of his copyright. However, Booth disappeared again soon after settling the dispute and contracting for a new book, and now his latest publisher, Louise Start--a former girlfriend of Walker's--wants Amos to locate him. Walker finds himself drawn to the case because of his own real-life connection to noir, and so he sets out to track Booth. Once he finally finds him, holed up in a fishing town in Michigan, Walker discovers that, rather than returning to fiction, Booth is writing about the race riots that took place in the 1940s in Detroit. When the writer turns up dead soon after, and his murder is staged to look like a suicide, Walker immediately suspects that Booth's new project had hit a nerve for someone. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, found the book to be "a very entertaining thriller that offers a fitting tribute both to the genre and to the tough, passionate men who created it." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly remarked: "A good, involving mystery featuring strong characters and prose as smooth as the brim of a fedora, this novel makes smart points about writing, publishing and the cult of mysteries."

In Sinister Heights, Walker finds himself called into a wealthy neighborhood of Detroit, an area called Iroquois Heights. Rayellen Stutch, a young and beautiful widow with a large inheritance, sets Walker on the trail of the daughter and granddaughter of the woman with whom her husband once had an affair, in order to determine whether they are going to attempt to claim any portion of the estate. Ostensibly, Rayellen wants to settle the entire thing out of court, but once Walker finds the women in question, the case becomes far more complicated. Caught up with helping the granddaughter and her son, Walker finds himself trapped in a far more dangerous case than he was prepared for as a mysterious truck hits his car, causing enough damage and mayhem to result in the kidnapping of the boy. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked that "the plot's as hard to like as an Edsel, and Walker's recovery time is even slower than his retorts, but nobody does Detroit better than Estleman." Lukowsky, writing again in Booklist, declared that "the Walker series remains classic hard-boiled fare for those who like their private eyes to be Old School all the way."

Poison Blond, Estleman's fiftieth published book, is another installment in the "Amos Walker" series. The plot focuses on Walker's latest client, a Latino singer who performs under a borrowed name to hide from death squads from her home country. The author has continued to write about Amos Walker and his cases in several books, including Retro, Nicotine Kiss, and American Detective. Retro features Walker as the suspect in the murder of a friend's son, a man who was hiding underground for thirty years after a bomb plot during the Vietnam War era. In Nicotine Kiss, Amos is tracking down a smuggler, Jeff Starzek, who once saved his life. His hunt takes him across Michigan as he has a deadly duel on the road. Writing in Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin commented: "The riveting chase scenes are tailor-made for the screen." Commenting on Nicotine Kiss, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "few among the Private Eye Writers of America can do it better." In Publishers Weekly, a contributor wrote that the character of Amos leaves "the reader eager for more."

American Detective features Amos investigating the death of the daughter of a legendary Detroit Tigers pitcher. "Estleman's prose is as gritty and compelling as ever," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Estleman offers a series of short stories in his next book starring Walker, Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, He then returns to the novel form with The Left-Handed Dollar and Infernal Angels. In the latter installment, Walker is hired to investigate a shipment of HDTV converters that have gone missing. Walker knows that the equipment has likely been stripped for parts. The converters' platinum, lead, and copper components will be parceled out and sold back to manufacturers. The case seems simple enough, but then the retailer who hired Walker is murdered, as is Walker's best informant. Simple theft is not the motive at work here, and Walker discovers that the converters were used to smuggle a bad batch of heroin into Detroit. Junkies throughout the city have been overdosing, and Walker has stepped into a street-based drug war that can only end in more bloodshed.

Most critics lauded the novel, but a Kirkus Reviews contributor called it "formulaic, to be sure." The contributor nevertheless admitted that "steadfast marchers in Walker's army are not likely to complain." Countering this opinion in her AARP website review, Mia Geiger wrote: "The real star of the hunt for the converter-box con artist, of course, is Amos Walker himself. It's fun to follow him around Motown in his vintage muscle car ..., sometimes blundering, occasionally getting beat up, always antagonizing whoever gives him lip. In the process Walker blurts out a boatload of comebacks and one-liners, all neatly balanced by the author so as not to cloy--or clog the action." Geiger concluded that Infernal Angels "reinforces Estleman's skill at original plotting and lively dialogue, but it's his crusty protagonist who leaves you longing for more." Booklist correspondent Lukowsky praised the story too, pointing out that Estleman's writing has won several awards and asserting: "Read this classic yet modern example of the hard-boiled detective novel, and you'll begin to understand why."

In Burning Midnight, Walker's friend from the homicide division hired him to investigate his son's brother-in-law, Ernesto Pasada, who has been hanging out with the Maldados, a gang known for cop-killing. His task is to convince the gang that Pasada will only bring them trouble, but trouble soon surfaces in the form of bodies and a bounty on Walker's head. Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky wrote that this installment offers "the usual engaging melange of tough-guy dialogue, violence, and sharp plotting delivered through a haze of cigarette smoke." A Publishers Weekly reviewer had even higher praise, writing that "Estleman offers one of his cleverest solutions to the whodunit, ... no small achievement."

Walker goes on the lookout for an investment banker's missing wife in Don't Look for Me, the twenty-third Amos Walker novel. Having left behind a note that says "Don't look for me," Cecilia proves difficult to track down, and Walker's few leads lead him nowhere. But soon Walker discovers threads of a complicated mystery that involves an international drug ring and an old foe. Booklist critic Lukowsky noted that Walker looks upon "a dishonest world with a cynical eye-and is still disappointed. A very good entry in a solid series." A Kirkus Reviews contributor was critical, writing "neither Walker's current case nor the case he stumbles into reaches a satisfying conclusion, and the return of his female Fu Manchu is more tiresome than menacing." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, on the other hand, wrote that "downbeat Chandleresque lines ... complement a lean but engrossing plot and a plausibly human lead."

You Know Who Killed Me finds Walker in a rehab facility after an overdose. He is asked to help investigate the murder of an Iroquois Heights city employee named Donald Gates. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews described the volume as "modest, tidy and fast-moving: a pleasing lesser entry in Walker's dossier."

In The Sundown Speech, Walker searches for a filmmaker named Jerry Marcus, who has disappeared with the money a couple used to invest in one of his films. A Publishers Weekly reviewer criticized the secondary characters' development and suggested: "The series's many fans can only hope for a return to form next time." However, Lukowsky stated in Booklist: "This one is typical Walker: great dialogue, world-weary protagonist, sharp plot, and a nasty villain."

In the 2017 series installment, The Lioness Is the Hunter, Walker has a full plate with three clients showing up on the same day and looking for the same man, Detroit property developer Emil Haas. The first client wants to find Haas, the second wants Haas to stay missing, and the third client is Haas's daughter, searching for her missing dad. In the course of the same day, Walker discovers one of these clients dead, and has gotten not only the Detroit police involved, but also Homeland Security and a gang of terrorists. A Publishers Weekly reviewer had praise for this 26th installment, noting that Walker's "lively first-person narrative is studded with wry observations and refreshingly imaginative turns of phrase."

The Black and White Ball finds Walker teaming up with hit man, Peter Macklin, protagonist of another popular series by Estleman. Macklin comes to Walker to protect his estranged wife from death threats by their own son. In When Old Midnight Comes Along, from 2019, Walker hunts for a woman who has been missing for six years. His client is her husband who is eager to collect on her insurance policy and to remarry, not wanting to wait seven years for the missing woman to be declared legally dead. In the course of his investigation, Walker is almost murdered and also framed for murder, but saved by an unlikely character. "Estleman could crank these out in his sleep," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. "Come for the snappy patter, stay for the surprises." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, "Chandler and Hammett fans will feel right at home on the mean streets of Estleman's Detroit."

In another series of mysteries, Estleman slants the perspective to that of a criminal, Peter Macklin, who also freelances out of Detroit. "Macklin is the result of my wanting to do an in-depth study of a professional killer," Estleman told Bob McKelvey in the Detroit Free Press. "It presents a challenge to keep a character sympathetic who never has anything we would call morals." The plot of Kill Zone, the first novel in the "Peter Macklin" series, concerns the seizure of a Detroit river boat by terrorists who hold hundreds of passengers hostage, attracting other professional killers from organized crime and a governmental agency as well. In the second installment, Roses Are Dead, Macklin tries to determine who and why someone has contracted to kill him. In Any Man's Death, Macklin is hired to guard the life of a television evangelist and is caught in the struggle between rival mob families for control of a proposed casino gambling industry in Detroit.

The author has also continued his contributions to the "Peter Macklin" series with books such as Something Borrowed, Something Black and Little Black Dress, which features Peter looking to retire with his girl, Laurie, and teaming up with mob "case man" Ben Grinnell to get out of the mob's clutches. "Pete and Laurie make an entertaining pair, more vinegary than Nick and Nora but no less appealing," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor in a review of Little Black Dress. Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, called the author "a consummate craftsman," adding that he "has done the near impossible ... [making] an assassin a fascinating, dynamic series character."

The Hider, a novel about the last buffalo hunt in America, was Estleman's first western novel and was purchased immediately--a rarity in the genre. Aces & Eights, about the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, was awarded the Golden Spur, and This Old Bill, a fable based on the life of William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Estleman's Bloody Season is an extensively researched historical novel about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Bill Crider observed: "All of Estleman's books appear solidly researched, and each ends in a way which ties all the story threads together in an effective pseudo-historical manner, giving each an air of reality and credibility."

Estleman again displays his ability to balance parody and tribute in the 1997 western Billy Gashade, the story of a young man from a wealthy family who flees his New York home after the 1863 draft riots and lights out for the territories, encountering on his journey such figures as Jesse James, Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid, and Crazy Horse. The narrative, told from the vantage point of the eighty-eight-year-old protagonist living in Depression-era Hollywood, tells of Billy's wanderings as an itinerant piano player.

Estleman followed the upbeat Billy Gashade with a western of a much darker tone. Journey of the Dead picks up the thread of another figure whose life has been touched by the legendary Billy the Kid: his killer, Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett's life was irreparably shaken by his intervention in history. The novel tells not only of the violent events themselves, but also of Garrett's lingering nightmares, taking place on a bleak strip of landscape called La Journada del Muerto, from which the novel takes its title.

Ragtime Cowboys tells the fictionalized story of the historical detective Charles D. Siringo. He is hired to find Wyatt Earp's horse, and his investigation puts him in contact with author Dashiell Hammett. Hammett and Siringo travel to San Francisco and find the horse. Along the way, they also meet Joseph Kennedy, an aspiring politician and rum runner, and Will Rogers. Glen Seeber, a contributor to the online version of the Oklahoman, remarked: "Estleman cleverly ties everyone together, throws in witty repartee and familiar lines from Siringo and Hammett's books and keeps it entertaining from beginning to finish." Booklist reviewer John Mort suggested: "Estleman's knowledge of the period, and period slang, shines through."

In The Long High Noon, cowboys Frank Farmer and Randy Locke have a duel and continue fighting with one another for years, in a variety of locations. Eventually, Abraham Cripplehorn approaches them and suggests they organize a fight on the Cherokee Strip and invite paying observers. "Estleman delivers his tall tale with dollops of western lore, elegant prose, and crisp, tongue-in-cheek dialogue," remarked Mort in Booklist.

Esteleman's 2017 novel, The Ballad of Black Bart, is a fictionalized account of the legendary Old West stagecoach robber, Black Bart, and the cat and mouse game between him and James B. Hume, the detective who vowed to track him down. Midwest Book Review contributor Gloria Feit noted of this novel: "Another excellent book from this author, and highly recommended."

The city of Detroit is the central character of Estleman's "Detroit" crime series, originally projected to be a trilogy but now encompassing additional volumes. The first installment, Whiskey River, covers the wars between rival gangs during the Prohibition years and is narrated by newspaper columnist Connie Minor. "Occasionally the details fail," remarked Walter Walker in the New York Times Book Review. "But [Estleman] does a marvelous job of setting clues, bringing seemingly loose ends together and surprising his readers, leaving them nearly incapable of stopping at the end of any given chapter."

Motown is set in the turbulent year of 1966, when big cars, mobs, labor unions, racial tension, and power politicians dominated Detroit. Intertwining real and fictional events, Estleman weaves plots concerning race wars between the black and Italian mobs, racketeering, and the safety records of the cars produced by the Big Three automakers. Connie Minor appears again, this time as an investigative reporter who finds an incriminating photograph of a labor leader.

The series's third novel, King of the Corner, continues the themes of racial tension, dirty politics, and organized crime. The central character is "Doc" Miller, a white, overweight ex-Tigers baseball pitcher just out of prison for the death of a girl in his hotel room. Although he intends to do honest work, Miller soon finds himself involved with Detroit's drug dealers and political corruption.

The additional novels in the series focus on other decades in the Motor City. In Edsel, Connie Minor has become a copywriter for the Ford Motor Company touting its new dream car of the 1950s, the Edsel. Because of his questioning of guys on the line, Minor comes under suspicion of spying on the rank-and-file and gets caught up in intrigue by the unions. Noted Stasio in the New York Times Book Review: "Estleman is a pithy, punchy writer who can also deliver the action by spitting images out of the side of his mouth." Stress takes place in the 1970s as Detroit is recovering from the race riots of the 1960s. It focuses on Charlie Battle, a young black cop confronting a racist department and violent black militant groups.

U.S. Marshal Page Murdock first appears in the 1979 novel The High Rocks. His subsequent adventures have continued for over thirty years, from the 1980 installment Stamping Ground to Port Hazard, published in 2004. In Port Hazard, Murdock takes on a conspiracy plot to renew the Civil War by murdering prominent lawmen and public officials. Murdock dives into the corruption of San Francisco's Barbary Coast, mixing it up with gamblers, vigilantes, whores, Chinese gangs, and crooked politicians.

Murdock is featured again in the 2010 novel The Book of Murdock. The year is 1884, and the deputy marshal heads to Texas to track a gang of robbers who have been terrorizing the region. In order to ferret out his men, Murdock poses as a traveling preacher. He turns to a recently defrocked priest for pointers and then takes the name of Brother Bernard Sebastian. As Brother Bernard, Murdock claims to be sponsored by the Church of Evangelical Truth. But he struggles to maintain his cover when he crosses paths with a former paramour. A Texas Ranger is also suspicious of Murdock's cover story. As the plot inches toward its conclusion, the climax arrives in the form of an explosive church-based gun battle with a high body count. Commending the "inventive" plot in the online Spinetingler, Theodore Feit found that The Book of Murdock is "written with a flowing conciseness that is a joy to read." Lauding the book further in Publishers Weekly, a critic advised: "This is one of Estleman's best, a smart, tightly wrapped story about an honest lawman." Booklist contributor Lukowsky was equally impressed, stating that the story is "peppered with humor, irony, and melancholy." Lukowsky went on to announce: "A clever plot and a satisfying conclusion round out a very enjoyable read."

In Cape Hell, Murdock looks for Captain Oscar Childress, who is rumored to be building a custom train in Mexico called El Esperanto, with which he hopes to attack U.S. troops. Bill Ott, a Booklist writer, noted that the book contained "fine hallucinogenic writing with appeal across several genres."

The 2018 series installment, Wild Justice, finds Murdock with time on his hands in 1896 on a cross-country train journey from Montana to Delaware, accompanying the body of a judge to his place of burial. In the course of the trip, Murdock looks back over his years of law enforcement, conjuring up some of the more memorable and exciting adventures he has had. Booklist reviewer David Pitt had praise for this work, commenting: "Estleman, a pro's pro in genre fiction who easily jumps from westerns to historical sagas to crime fiction, adopts a comfortable, conversational writing style that invites the reader to settle in and enjoy the ride."

Estleman kicks off the "Valentino" series with Frames, featuring the eponymous hero, a "film detective" who has previously appeared in a number of Estleman's short stories. Valentino works at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he is a film archivist, but somehow he has a knack for getting himself into trouble. He thinks he has found a fabulous deal in an old 1920s theater that is nearly crumbled to the ground, one that proves even sweeter when he finds a collection of old film prints that might be priceless. But the next find proves less advantageous--a skeleton of unknown origin and age. Valentino attempts to hedge his bets by helping the police and neglecting to mention the film he discovered. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly remarked on the vast difference in tone between this book and Estleman's other series, particularly the darker "Amos Walker" books, and concluded that "the versatile Estleman has crafted yet another intelligent page-turner." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews declared the book "a bonbon that can't be expected to grip like Estleman's edgier stuff. ... Still, it's an entertaining journey, especially for movie buffs."

In 2013, Estleman published Alive!, the third Valentino mystery. Valentino has been trying to ignore the repeated calls for help of his estranged alcoholic friend, B-list actor Craig Hunter. When Craig is brutally murdered, Valentino is heartbroken and determines to find his killer, who appears to be a Los Angeles mobster. A connection to a rumored print of a film depicting Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein's monster thickens the plot. Booklist reviewer Ott called the novel "great fun on multiple fronts." A Kirkus Reviews critic asserted that Estleman is "better as a tour guide ... than as a plotter, and the only thing the killer does to make himself memorable is slink off into the fog way too early." A Publishers Weekly critic felt that "fascinating tidbits of Hollywood lore throughout more than compensate for the over-the-top ending."

In Shoot, Valentino makes a deal with actor Red Montana. Red will give him a coveted copy of Sixgun Sonata if he will track down a porno film that stars a young Dixie Day, his longtime costar. Writing on the BookPage website, Barbara Clark suggested: "Full of insider facts about Hollywood's great Westerns and the genre's famous stars, it offers a neat mystery with a hint of noir, and delivers a hefty dose of the author's trademark sly humor." Ott, writing in Booklist, predicted: "Readers with a soft spot in their hearts for vintage westerns will saddle up for this one." A critic in Kirkus Reviews described the book as "Valentino's most relaxed and accomplished appearance to date." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked: "Film buffs will revel in Estleman's countless references to Hollywood's greats and not-so-greats."

In Brazen, the fifth Valentino mystery, the film archivist and sometimes detective is on the trail of a killer who has taken the lives of three blonde women, staging the crime scenes to resemble the deaths of Hollywood sirens such as Marilyn Monroe, Thelma Todd, and Jane Mansfield. Valentino is on the case before the killer can stage his final murder to look like that of Sharon Tate. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted of this installment: "Middling, highly proficient work from a pro who makes a virtue of economy by getting every chapter, scene, and sentence to pull its weight and then some." Booklist reviewer Bill Ott had higher praise for the novel, commenting, "Estleman is one of the few genre vets who can jump from hard-boiled fare (his Amos Walker series) to jaunty entertainment and seem perfectly at ease in both camps. ... You can almost smell the popcorn."

The Undertaker's Wife features Lucy Connable recalling her life and adventures with undertaker Richard Connable, including an encounter with Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok. Unfortunately, Lucy has long succumbed to ennui, and eventually tragedy strikes the Connables' life. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the novel contains "tons of absorbing scenes of embalming and cosmetic restoration." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that The Undertaker's Wife "offers a superlative love story and a fascinating look at a misunderstood vocation."

In his 2006 novel, The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion, Estleman writes about an actor traveling the west putting on plays in small towns. In reality, however, Johnny and his fellow thespians are bank robbers who soon end up on the run from the Pinkertons. David Pitt, writing in Booklist, commented that "this is, hands down, one of Estleman's best novels." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Estleman provides "a final showdown filled with laughs and gun-smoke."

Gas City tells the story of a corrupt city that functions like clockwork but only at the mercy of the local Mafia. Police Chief Francis X. Russell has been accused of being in bed with the mob, and no matter how well the city runs or how livable it is for those who call it home, there are plenty of critics who fault him for his decisions. Russell has agreed to steer clear of the territory the Mafia runs, and in return the remainder of the city is safe and clean. Everything runs as it should and everyone is happy until Russell's wife dies, and he suddenly finds himself at loose ends. With his mourning comes a sort of revelation, and Russell sets out to reform his city. He begins moving in on the Mafia's businesses, prompting raids, followed by retaliation, and the Gas City is suddenly a far less quiet place to live. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked: "Estleman ... serves up what just might be the best novel about urban political corruption since Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key." A writer in Publishers Weekly declared: "Admirers of unsparing crime fiction will hope that Estleman plans to visit Gas City again." Lukowsky, again writing in Booklist, noted that "each of the half-dozen plotlines is executed flawlessly" and concluded that the book is "a magnificent crime novel."

In The Confessions of Al Capone, Estleman presents a dual narrative--that of the legendary mobster as he is dying of syphilis, and that of Peter Vasco, a low-level FBI agent who is given the case of a lifetime--an undercover operation to try and elicit information from Capone. Noting that the author "looks at [Capone] with a compassionate eye," Booklist critic David Pitt remarked that "we've seen Capone before ... but we haven't seen him like this." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Burning Midnight "a nuanced and compelling ... portrait" in which "Estleman captures his lead's ambivalence ... perfectly."

Estleman is the editor of The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes, which includes stories featuring the famous fictional detective. A Publishers Weekly critic described the book as a "mixed bag of short Holmes pastiches."

Estleman offers ten short stories set in Detroit during the 1940s in Detroit Is Our Beat: Tales of the Four Horsemen.Booklist critic Lukowsky commented: "Estleman knows Detroit inside out, and he is at his best among tough guys, hard women, and snappy dialogue." "Estleman's marvelous collection showcases his knowledge of this gutsy city, both past and present," asserted Amy Nolan in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer suggested: "Estleman fills every page with authentic period details."

Desperate Detroit and Stories of Other Dire Places contains previously published short stories from Estleman. "His fans will get a serious kick out of this collection," asserted Lukowsky in Booklist.

Estleman's 2017 story collection, Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe, is a tip of the hat to famed crime novelist Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe mysteries. In Estleman's stories, a wealthy New Yorker is a great fan of Wolfe, renames himself Claudius Lyon and goes on to hire an assistant, Arnie Woodbine, whose name closely resembles Wolfe's sidekick, Archie Goodwin. The collection contains eleven short stories featuring this duo. A Publishers Weekly reviewer was not impressed with these tales, noting that the "characters, mysteries, and deductions are slight, with the solutions to the puzzles often obvious and repetitive." A Kirkus Reviews critic, however, found more to like, concluding, "Fans who rejoice in Estleman's deep knowledge and obvious love of Stout's oeuvre and his infectious playfulness will demand more adventures."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 48, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988, pp. 102-107.
  • Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, 2nd edition, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

PERIODICALS

  • Booklist, May 1, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, p. 1621; February 1, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Sinister Heights, p. 926; May 1, 2004, Wes Lukowsky, review of Retro, p. 1506; April 1, 2005, Wes Lukowsky, review of Little Black Dress, p. 1348; February 1, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Nicotine Kiss, p. 32; April 15, 2006, David Pitt, review of The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion, p. 38; January 1, 2008, Wes Lukowsky, review of Gas City, p. 47; September 1, 2008, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Branch and the Scaffold: A Novel of Judge Parker, p. 62; December 1, 2009, Bill Ott, review of Alone, p. 27; February 1, 2010, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Book of Murdock, p. 37; August 1, 2010, Ian Chipman, review of Roy & Lillie: A Love Story, p. 44; September 1, 2010, Wes Lukowsky, review of Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, p. 48; December 15, 2010, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Left-Handed Dollar, p. 24; May 1, 2011, Jeanette Larson, review of The Left-Handed Dollar, p. 52; June 1, 2011, Wes Lukowsky, review of Infernal Angels, p. 42; May 1, 2012, Wes Lukowsky, review of Burning Midnight, p. 20; February 15, 2013, Bill Ott, review of Alive!, p. 30; June 1, 2013, David Pitt, review of The Confessions of Al Capone, p. 37; November 1, 2013, Don Crinklaw, review of Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes, p. 33; March 15, 2014, Wes Lukowsky, review of Don't Look for Me, p. 52; April 15, 2014, John Mort, review of Ragtime Cowboys, p. 31; April 15, 2015, John Mort, review of The Long High Noon, p. 36; May 1, 2015, Wes Lukowsky, review of Detroit Is Our Beat: Tales of the Four Horsemen, p. 30; October 1, 2015, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Sundown Speech, p. 28; January 1, 2016, Bill Ott, review of Shoot, p. 44; March 1, 2016, Wes Lukowsky, review of Desperate Detroit and Stories of Other Dire Places, p. 44; March 15, 2016, Bill Ott, review of Cape Hell, p. 31; November 15, 2018, David Pitt, review of Wild Justice, p. 34; November 9, 2019, Bill Ott, review of Brazen, p. 30.
  • Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1984, Bob McKelvey, author interview.
  • Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of Sinister Heights, p. 1724; May 1, 2004, review of Retro, p. 424; March 1, 2005, review of Little Black Dress, p. 261; May 1, 2005, review of The Undertaker's Wife, p. 494; February 1, 2006, review of Nicotine Kiss, p. 112; November 15, 2007, review of Gas City; March 1, 2008, review of Frames; July 1, 2011, review of Infernal Angels; March 1, 2013, review of Alive!; February 15, 2014, review of Don't Look for Me; November 1, 2014, review of You Know Who Killed Me; September 1, 2015, review of The Sundown Speech; December 15, 2015, review of Shoot; October 1, 2016, review of Brazen; April 1, 2017, review of Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolf; November 1, 2019, review of When Old Midnight Comes Along.
  • Library Journal, March 15, 2008, Forge Susan Clifford Braun, review of Frames, p. 62; April 1, 2011, Phillip Oliver, review of The Left-Handed Dollar, p. 57; May 1, 2015, Amy Nolan, review of Detroit Is Our Beat, p. 68.
  • MBR Bookwatch, December, 2017, Gloria Feit, review of The Ballad of Black Bart; January, 2018, Able Greenspan, review of The Ballad of Black Bart.
  • New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1986, Newgate Callendar, review of Every Brilliant Eye, p. 32; October 14, 1990, Walter Walker, review of Whiskey River, p. 50; March 19, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Edsel, p. 29; April 27, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Never Street.
  • PR Newswire, March 18, 2006, "2006 Spur Awards Honor Best Westerns."
  • Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2000, review of A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, p. 178; May 24, 2004, review of Retro, p. 48; March 28, 2005, review of Little Black Dress, p. 61; June 13, 2005, review of The Undertaker's Wife, p. 29; February 13, 2006, review of Nicotine Kiss, p. 66, and Leonard Picker, "Not Enough to Be a Good Man: PW Talks with Loren D. Estleman," p. 65; April 17, 2006, review of The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion, p. 164; February 19, 2007, review of American Detective, p. 151; November 5, 2007, review of Gas City, p. 44; February 11, 2008, review of Frames, p. 53; September 29, 2014, review of The Adventure of the Plated Spoon and Other Tales of Sherlock Holmes, p. 79; October 20, 2014, review of You Know Who Killed Me, p. 34; March 2, 2015, review of Detroit Is Our Beat, p. 66; September 21, 2015, review of The Sundown Speech, p. 53; December 7, 2015, review of Shoot, p. 71; December 19, 2016, review of The Lioness Is the Hunter, p. 101; March 6, 2017, review of Nearly Nero, p. 42; October 14, 2019, review of When Old Midnight Comes Along, p. 46.
  • Variety, April 9, 2013, Pat Saperstein, review of Alive!, p. 78.
  • Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1985, Kathleen Maio, review of "Amos Walker" series, p. 487; November 30, 2009, review of The Book of Murdock, p. 30; November 18, 2011, Loren D. Estleman, "Why I Write"; April 16, 2012, review of Burning Midnight, p. 40; July 30, 2012, review of The Perils of Sherlock Holmes, p. 39; February 4, 2013, review of Alive!, p. 45; April 29, 2013, review of The Confessions of Al Capone, p. 110; September 23, 2013, review of Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes, p. 60; January 20, 2014, review of Don't Look for Me, p. 33.

ONLINE

  • AARP, http://www.aarp.org/ (October 20, 2011), Mia Geiger, review of Infernal Angels.
  • BookPage, https://bookpage.com/ (February 9, 2016), Barbara Clark, review of Shoot.
  • Buried Under Books, https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/ (March 10, 2018), Gloria Feit, review of The Ballad of Black Bart.
  • La stanza di Sherlock, http://www.lastanzadisherlock.it/ (November 19, 2019), author interview.
  • Loren D. Estleman, http://www.lorenestleman.com (August 1, 2016).
  • Mysterious Reviews, http://www.mysteriousreviews.com/ (August 1, 2016), review of Shoot.
  • Oklahoman, http://newsok.com/ (April 27, 2014), Glen Seeber, review of Ragtime Cowboys.
  • Spinetingler, http://www.spinetinglermag.com/ (September 9, 2010), Theodore Feit, review of The Book of Murdock. *

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000029853