Friday, April 9, 2010

Review of Motor City Blue by Loren D. Estleman (Ballantine, 1980)

Amos Walker is a PI in Detroit. Whilst staking out an insurance scam artist he witnesses, Kramer, his company commander from Vietnam being bundled into the back of a car by two apes. He reports the abduction to an old acquaintance in the police, but soon afterwards Kramer is found shot dead and left in the trunk of a car at the airport. Later that day Walker is contacted by Ben Morningstar, the local mafia boss, who wants him to find his ward, Marla Bernstein, a teenager who’s skipped finishing school. The only clue to her whereabouts is pornographic photo. After scrabbling round the underbelly of Detroit and tangling with pornographers, pimps and whores, gangsters, white fundamentalists, and military intelligence agents, Walker realises that Kramer’s death and Bernstein’s disappearance are connected, all he needs to do now is find the girl and bring Kramer’s killers to justice.

Motor City Blue has an interesting, twisting plot, and Estleman can string some nice prose together. This should have been a book that I enjoyed a lot. And to some extent I did. My problems with it were two-fold. First, all the characters were highly stereotypical - Walker is cut from the same cloth as almost every PI committed to paper post Hammett and Chandler (see my post here; there is absolutely nothing original or unique about him or his life); Bernstein is the brattish, spoilt child; Morningstar is the laconic, benevolent gangster; Iris is the whore with a heart of gold; the homicide officer is cranky and overworked; military intelligence are straight-backed dolts; etc. Second, the story is bought to a close through a series of long monologues that are used to explain how Walker solved the mystery. The guy barely strings two sentences together for most of the story and suddenly we get pages of monologue revealing, Poirot style, how we as the reader should have been able to piece the puzzle together (except for the fact that we didn’t have all the clues until the explanation). Overall, Motor City Blue will appeal to any fan of hardboiled PI, where the PI is carbon copy of Philip Marlowe. Personally, I enjoyed it for the prose and plot, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it could have been with some original characterisation and style.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Always been my gripe with him, too.