Scenario: You need a book for a certain kind of mood, not to mention you have a short window. A seven-hundred pager, replete with a huge cast, backstory, and exposition, won’t work. A tighter piece, preferably featuring a single, engaging narrator, is of the essence. A little bit of atmosphere and intrigue won’t hurt.
In her bi-weekly crime fiction column in the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio recently favored the Detroit writer Loren D. Estleman’s new one, When Old Midnight Comes Along. An old pro like Stasio picking an old pro like Estleman might be seen as a sure thing. But I’ll add two bits in support.
The first point is that this new one is a standalone Amos Walker private eye novel, set in present-day Detroit. You get Walker’s sharp takes and droll commentary, front-to-back. There are no instances where you’re sitting through a needless, italicized prologue (“Holy Detroit Batman! We’re about to get smashed by an asteroid!”), nor does Estleman make the mistake of switching to a different narrator, thereby taking you out of your rhythm.
Another point is that Walker’s case centers on a complex, rather than a cut and dried, good vs. evil, sort of intrigue. It features a corrupt backroom politician whose wife disappeared five years ago. The police believe she’s dead (even though they never found a body), and that the pol arranged it. Yet the pol, who claims to want closure at least in part to pave the way to re-marry, asks Walker to look around.
The detective can’t figure it. Why would the pol put Walker on the trail if there’s a chance Walker discovers the pol did it?
Here’s where it pays to keep the point-of-view with Walker. He’s blind like the rest of us. The people he meets are a puzzle. His only remedy is to make full use of his intelligence and perseverance. He muddles through.
You can read When Old Midnight Comes Along in two or three pleasure-filled sittings. Just as Stasio suggested, it’s a savvy bet for the aforementioned scenario.