Loren D. Estleman: Black and White Ball

Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. She’s being stalked by his son, Roger, who has gone into the family business – contract killing.

Dividing the segments of the novel into “Me” (Walker), “Him” (Macklin), as well as “Her” (the ex-wife) and “Them” (various, but often Roger) has injected a fresh energy into this novel. As always, Estleman writes tight – this book clocks in at 240 pages – and also as always, his prose and expression are absolute treasures. Reading an Estleman novel is almost like eating a too rich slice of chocolate cake – you have to read slowly, because if you don’t you won’t be able to savor the prose and the witty sleight of hand that comprises Estleman’s dialogue. People in an Estleman novel speak like you wish you could and maybe the way you would if you had a long time to come up with the perfect turn of phrase. Alas, I think there are few human brains that actually operate on that elevated scale, but it’s certainly a delight to encounter it in print. read more

Karen Dionne: The Marsh King’s Daughter

Every once in a while you read a book that’s so good, you can’t look up until you finish, and it’s so clear and specific and moving that you know it’s the book the author was meant to write. This novel, set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is indelible in every way: setting, story and character. Dionne frames her novel with Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Marsh King’s Daughter, and opens with a woman named Helena relating, in first person, that she’s a kidnapping survivor.

The scenario seems all too tragically familiar – Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, even the movie, Room – but as Dionne fleshes it out it becomes very much her own story. Helena is the product of an abduction. She grew up in a remote area of the UP in a tiny cabin with only her mother and father. As it’s the only life she knows, it takes her a long time to puzzle out quite what’s wrong about it. read more

Stephen Mack Jones: August Snow

As I started this book I have to admit I was a tad suspicious – the author is a poet and a playwright, not always the recipe for creating a down and dirty private eye novel. But as I read this novel set in Detroit’s Mexicantown and featuring half African American, half Mexican ex-cop August Snow, I found instead that the book fitted neatly in with work by Loren Estleman and Steve Hamilton, being a refreshingly straightforward, if gritty, private eye novel and making no bones about it.

Like David Housewright’s Minnesota P.I. Mackenzie, who has a ton of money at his disposal, so does August Snow, who won a settlement against the Detroit Police Department and is using the money in his own way to recreate the warm Mexicantown neighborhood he fondly remembers from his childhood. He’s been on the run – more or less – for a year and is back home, settling into his life in Detroit, when he gets a call from an old client, one who helped cause much of the ruckus that got him on the outs with the Detroit cops. Reluctantly, he makes the trek across town to the woman’s Grosse Pointe mansion to see what he can help her with. read more

Doug Allyn: The Jukebox Kings

Doug Allyn has long been known as one of the masters of the modern mystery short story—it’s probably harder to find an issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine that doesn’t have an Allyn story in it than to find one that does, and it’s a rare year that he’s not nominated for an Edgar award. But he’s also a fine novelist as well, my personal favorite being the the Mitch Mitchell series, which feature a female Michigan based deepwater diver.

The latest exhibit of his mastery in the longer form is called The Jukebox Kings. It’s not so much a mystery as a crime novel, a story of the rise of a gangster in the Little Caesar tradition. Mick Shannon is a boxer, fresh out of prison, who, after losing a tough fight, finds himself deeply in debt to the mob, in the person of Moishe Abrams, an extremely dangerous relic of the Purple Gang era, who still controls jukeboxes and collections in the black parts of Detroit. Things get rough quickly, and soon Mick finds himself taking the place of Moishe in an extremely fraught environment. read more

D.E. Johnson: Detroit Shuffle

D.E. Johnson’s fourth novel in his dark chronicle of 1912 Detroit and the frequently unlucky life of protagonist Will Anderson is also a look at the Women’s Suffrage movement.  These novels are tight and move quickly, with lots of action sequences – this has a notable section set in an actual salt mine – that keep the pages flying even if, as I do, you frequently feel squeamish about what’s happening to Will.

detroitshuffleIn the last novel, Detroit Breakdown, Will went undercover in the giant Eloise mental hospital where his girlfriend’s brother was a resident.  This has left him with some residual issues, and it’s left his girlfriend, Elizabeth, not only with a mother who has dementia at home but her brother Robert and his friend Francis, both of whom seem to suffer from, at the very least, some form of Asperger’s. read more

P.J. Parrish: Heart of Ice

P.J. Parrish – or the sisters who write as P.J. Parrish – are paperback writers in the very best sense of the word.  They deliver a good story, well told, with reliable characters and settings, asking only that their readers enjoy the journey they deliver. Almost always, they fulfill this promise.  With their new novel, set on Mackinac Island, I was holding my opinion in reserve.

heartoficeFull disclosure:  I grew up on Mackinac Island, so I wasn’t so sure they could get it right, having read other novels set on the island that had a misfire or two (or more).  I was at first cautious but then more and more delighted as they really seemed to “get” the island (and it may help that one of the sisters lives in nearby Petoskey), but after awhile the story they were telling was simply so good, the island details really didn’t matter. read more

D.E. Johnson: Detroit Breakdown

Sometimes when an author is writing an historical series, his or her rhythm gets so in tune with the time they are writing about, that the story they are telling takes on the tone of the actual time period.  D.E. Johnson’s third novel set in 1912 Detroit takes on a gothic feel and the whole tenor of the story is enriched by it.  The first two books were set inside the automobile industry, this one takes the scion of the electric car company, Will Anderson, and sets him inside the gigantic mental hospital known as Eloise. read more

Steve Hamilton: Die a Stranger

Steve Hamilton keeps getting better and better, and in this latest Alex McKnight novel he seems to have hit a fast paced groove.  This book is so spare and so elegantly assembled it seems effortless.  The dialogue snaps and crackles, the action doesn’t let up, and underneath it all is the drumbeat of Alex’s heart as he searches for his friend, Vinnie.

Vinnie, as readers of this series will know, is Alex’s nearest neighbor, an Ojibwe who has moved off the reservation to be on his own.  His family is a bit puzzled by this behavior but things are in a state of uneasy truce, though Vinnie’s sisters aren’t big Alex fans. read more

Bryan Gruley: The Skeleton Box

I guess I believe in doing my best, trying to be a good guy, be nice to my mom, take care of the people I love.  Is that good enough?

One of my favorite things about selling books is watching an author grow not just career-wise, but grow as a writer.  Each book of Bryan Gruley’s is better than the last, and this third in his Gus Carpenter series really hits it out of the park.

His first novel, Starvation Lake, established Gruley’s character.  Gus has come back to Starvation Lake from a big time Detroit paper to run the tiny Pilot.  The balance of kinship, friendship, and community ties and history are finely drawn in the first two novels (the second is The Hanging Tree), but in this third installment Gruley goes to the heart of the matter: family. read more

Loren D. Estleman: Burning Midnight

In olden times Loren Estleman would have been regarded as a master craftsman.  He’s sixty plus books into a more than impressive career, setting the bar high in both the Western and the Private Eye genres, while also writing the occasional standalone as well as a couple other mystery series (Peter Macklin, Valentino).  This outing is the 22nd in his Amos Walker franchise, the present gold standard for private eye mysteries.  Sure, there are other private eye masters at work right now – Robert Crais, Steve Hamilton, and S. J. Rozan come to mind – but for the pure, traditional private eye experience no one can beat Estleman. read more