Estleman, Loren D. 1952–
Estleman, Loren D. 1952–
PERSONAL: Born September 15, 1952, in Ann Arbor, MI; son of Leauvett Charles (a truck driver) and Louise (a postal clerk; maiden name, Milankovich) Estleman; married Carole Ann Ashley (a marketing and public relations specialist), September 5, 1987. Education: Eastern Michigan University, B.A., 1974.
ADDRESSES: Home—Whitmore Lake, MI. Agent—c/o Morgan and Associates, P.O. Box 2976, Ann Arbor, MI 48106.
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.
MEMBER: 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.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award nomination, 1980, for The High Rocks; 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; Shamus Award nomination for best private eye novel, Private Eye Writers of America, 1984, for The Glass Highway; Pulitzer Prize in letters nomination, 1984, for This Old Bill; Shamus Awards, 1985, for novel Sugartown, and 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; Michigan Library Association Author of the Year Award, 1997; Shamus Award for best short story, 2004, for "Lady on Ice."
The Oklahoma Punk (crime novel), Major Books (Canoga Park, CA), 1976.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes (mystery-horror novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
The Wister Trace: Classic Novels of the American Frontier (criticism), Jameson Books, 1987.
Red Highway (novel), PaperJacks, 1988.
Peeper (mystery novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
The Best Western Stories of Loren D. Estleman, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg, Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 1989.
Sweet Women Lie, Thorndike Press, 1990.
Whiskey River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
Motown, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Sudden Country, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Crooked Way, Eclipse (New York, NY), 1993.
King of the Corner, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
City of Widows, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Judge, Forge (New York, NY), 1994.
Edsel, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Stress, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Jitterbug: A Novel of Detroit, Forge (New York, NY), 1998.
The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.
Thunder City: A Novel of Detroit, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.
The Hours of the Virgin, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
White Desert, Forge (New York, NY), 2000.
A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Writing the Popular Novel: A Comprehensive Guide to Crafting Fiction That Sells, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 2004.
The Undertaker's Wife, Forge (New York, NY), 2005.
"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.
Sinister Heights, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Poison Blonde, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Retro, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.
"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.
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.
(Editor) American West: Twenty New Stories, Forge (New York, NY), 2001.
Black Powder, White Smoke, Tom Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 2002.
"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.
(Editor, with Martin H. Greenberg) P.I. Files, Ivy Books, 1990.
Contributor to books, including Robert J. Randisi, editor, The Eyes Have It: The First Private Eye Writers of America Anthology, Mysterious Press, 1984; and Edward D. Hoch, editor, The Year's Best Mystery and Suspense Stories, 1986, Walker & Co., 1986. Contributor to periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Baker Street Journal, Fiction Writers Magazine, A Matter of Crime, Mystery, New Black Mask, Pulpsmith, Roundup, Saint Magazine, TV Guide, Writer, and Writer's Digest.
ADAPTATIONS: The "Amos Walker" mysteries Motor City Blue, Angel Eyes, The Midnight Man, Sugartown, The Glass Highway, and Every Brilliant Eye, were adapted as audiobooks, read by David Regal, for Brilliance Corp. (Grand Haven, MI), 1988. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation. One of Estleman's Western novels has been optioned by a California film company.
SIDELIGHTS: Loren D. Estleman, the prolific author of what James Kindall described in Detroit as "hard-bitten mysteries, a herd of reality-edged westerns and an occasional fantasy or two," is perhaps best known for his series of hard-boiled mysteries that unravel in an authentically evoked Detroit. "A country boy who has always lived outside of Detroit, he writes with convincing realism about inner city environments," stated Kindall, adding that "probably no other area pensmith can lay as convincing a claim to the title of Detroit's private eye writer as Estleman." Had it not been for the success of fellow Detroiter and mystery writer Elmore Leonard, pronounced William A. Henry in Time, "Estle-man would doubtless be known as the poet of Motor City."
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 Ham-mett's Sam Spade. Considered "one of the best the hard-boiled field has to offer" by Kathleen Maio in Wilson Library Bulletin, "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." Conceding to Ross that the character represents his "alter ego," Estleman once refused a six-figure offer from a major film company for exclusive rights to Walker, explaining to Kindall: "Twenty years from now, the money would be spent and I'd be watching the umpteenth movie with Chevy Chase or Kurt Russell playing Amos with the setting in Vegas or L.A. and blow my brains out."
Walker "deals with sleaze from top to bottom—Motor City dregs, cop killers and drug dealers," remarked Andrew Postman in Publishers Weekly, and reviewers admire the storytelling skills of his creator. Walker made his debut searching the pornographic underworld of Detroit for the female ward of an aging ex-gangster in Motor City Blue, a novel Kristiana Gregory appraised in the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "a dark gem of a mystery." About Angel Eyes, in which a dancer who anticipates her own disappearance hires Walker to search for her, the New Republic's Robin W. Winks believed "Estleman handles the English language with real imagination … so that one keeps reading for the sheer joy of seeing the phrases fall into place." In The Midnight Man, which Callendar described as "tough, side-of-the-mouth stuff, well written, positively guaranteed to keep you awake," Walker encounters a contemporary bounty hunter in his pursuit of three cop killers; and writing about The Glass Highway, in which Walker is hired to locate the missing son of a television anchor and must contend with a rampaging professional killer, Callendar believed Estleman "remains among the top echelon of American private-eye specialists."
Walker disappeared for most of the 1990s as Estleman worked on other projects, then made a comeback in Never Street after a 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, which leaves Walker "wandering the '90s in search of 1952," in the words of a writer for Booklist. Estleman refers to plot devices and conventions of the film noir genre as well as scenes from the actual movie as the mystery unwinds, "producing a novel that is part parody, part tribute," according to the Booklist reviewer. 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."
General Murders contains a collection of ten previously published short stories and novelettes featuring Walker. "Dating from 1982 to 1987, these samplings are good indicators of the pleasures in Estleman's longer works," remarked a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while a Booklist contributor noted that, "Like the best short story writers, Estleman creates characters with a phrase and sets scenes with a sentence." Yet New York Times Book Review contributor Edna Stumpf concluded that, "In general, however, the short story form reveals the intense stylization of Loren Estleman's fiction in an unkind way."
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." Kindall suggested that, "although a killer, he always seems to end up facing opponents even lower on the evolutionary scale, which shades him into the quasi-hero side." However, in a review of Kill Zone, the first novel in the "Macklin" series, Callendar felt that "not even Mr. Estleman's considerable skill can hide the falsity of his thesis" that even hired killers can be admirable characters. The plot of the novel 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. This all makes for a plot that a Publishers Weekly contributor found "confusing and glutted with a plethora of minor characters who detract from the story's credibility." Although Peter L. Robertson detected an implausibility of plot in the second of the "Macklin" series' novels, Roses Are Dead, in which Macklin tries to determine who and why someone has contracted to kill him, the critic noted in Booklist that the novel is "a guaranteed page-turner that features an intoxicating rush of brutal events and a fascinating anti-hero."
Describing the action of Any Man's Death, in which 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, Wes Lukowsky suggested in Booklist that Estleman "has created a surprisingly credible and evolving protagonist." And as a Time contributor remarked: "For urban edge and macho color … nobody tops Loren D. Estleman."
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. He has since written several other successful Western novels plus a critical analysis of Western fiction itself, The Wister Trace: Classic Novels of the American Frontier; and several of his books about the American West have earned critical distinction. The High Rocks, for instance, which is set in the mountains of Montana and relates the story of a man's battle with the Indians who murdered his parents, was nominated for an American Book Award. And the first two books of his proposed historical Western trilogy have also earned honors: 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.
In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, David Dary discussed Estleman's Bloody Season, an extensively researched historical novel about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral: "The author's search for objectivity and truth, combined with his skill as a fine writer, have created a new vision of what happened in Tombstone …, and he avoids the hackneyed style that clutters the pages of too many Westerns." Dary concluded that although it is a fictional account, the novel "probably comes closer to the truth" than anything else published on the subject. 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. A contributor to Publishers Weekly called the novel "a song, lyrical and alive with biting wit, drama, and grace," praising Estleman's ability to take "potshots at our conventional understanding of western heroes and their legends." A critic for Booklist was impressed that the novel "somehow manages to avoid collapsing under the weight of its epic scope," while a writer for Kirkus Reviews assessed Billy Gashade as "a fine, picaresque tale that brings to vivid, mock-heroic life many of American history's western icons."
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, described by a Kirkus Reviews contributor as "sunbaked torture," was irreparably shaken by his intervention in history. A writer for Publishers Weekly described Garrett as "a convincingly tragic western figure who never quite understands the praise and blame attached to him for an act he can never live down." 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. Journey of the Dead "deserves blue ribbons and rosettes," according to the Kirkus Reviews critic. "As he shows once more, [Estleman] has no rival—not even Louis L'Amour—in invoking the American Southwest."
The city of Detroit is the central character of Estleman's 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. "Estleman's novel is a wizard piece of historical reconstruction, exciting as a gangster film but with a texturing of the characters and the times that rises well above genre," hailed Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "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. Thomas Morawetz declared in the Washington Post Book World that "this wonderful cornucopia of a novel [has] quicksilver dialogue, incisive characterizations and canny interweaving of observations and events."
The series' third novel, King of the Corner, continues the themes of racial tension, dirty politics, and organized crime. The central character is "Doc" Miller, an overweight ex-Tigers baseball pitcher just out of prison for the death of a girl in his hotel room. Though he in-tends to do honest work, Miller soon finds himself involved with Detroit's black drug dealers and political corruption. "Neither as colorful nor as vigorous as the earlier volumes—but, still, a pleasing if rather rambling mystery-thriller," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
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. "The conspiracy he ultimately discovers and untangles may be fairly anti-climactic, but Minor's observation and irreverence combine to keep the reader comfortably—even avidly—in the passenger's seat," declared Jean Hanff Korelitz in a review for the Washington Post Book World. Noted Marilyn 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 sixties race riots, and focuses on Charlie Battle, a young black cop confronting a racist department and violent black militant groups. In Booklist, Wes Lukowsky called the novel "a fine installment in an innovative series," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated: "It's difficult to believe that Detroit will ever find a more eloquent poet than Estleman, who here … celebrates the gristle and sinew of the city as well as its aching heart."
Poison Blond, Estelman's fiftieth published book, was described by Library Journal reviewer Rex Klett as the author's "latest spell-binding adventure." 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. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised Estleman as a "wordsmith par excellence" who "has Amos deliver passionate laments for his city that add a melancholy counterpoint like background music." In reviewing the audiobook version of the novel, Library Journal critic Barbara Perkins called Poison Blond "another crackling good book…. This is Estleman at his very best."
A Publishers Weekly critic declared Estleman "at the top of his game," in a review of Port Hazard, in which U.S. Marshal Page 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. The "snappy dialogue, fast-paced action, colorful characters and plenty of bullets, booze and blood make this western crime drama a wicked romp," continued the Publishers Weekly critic. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews dubbed the novel "a historical western in mirror-smooth mahogany prose," and Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper praised Port Hazard as a "wildly entertaining romp with great period atmosphere."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 48, Thomson 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, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Ann Arbor News, September 24, 1978.
Ann Arbor Observer, July, 1978.
Armchair Detective, summer, 1987, p. 311; spring, 1988, p. 218; summer, 1989, p. 329; fall, 1989, p. 434; summer, 1990, p. 250; spring, 1991, p. 250; winter, 1991, pp. 5-11, p. 28; summer, 1995, p. 285.
Booklist, November 15, 1984; September 1, 1985; October 15, 1986; September 15, 1988, p. 123; April 1, 1990, p. 1530; June 15, 1991, pp. 1932, 1948; March 15, 1994, p. 1327; March 15, 1996, p. 1242; November 15, 2002; April 1, 2003; November 15, 2003; May 1, 2004; May 15, 2004.
Chicago Tribune Book World, January 18, 1981; August 10, 1986.
Detroit, March 8, 1987.
Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1984.
Detroit News, May 18, 1979; August 21, 1983.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1988, p. 1100; August 1, 1989, p. 1116; June 15, 1991, p. 746; April 1, 1992, p. 412; February 15, 1994, p. 160; February 1, 1995, p. 90; December 1, 1997; September 1, 2002; March 1, 2003; November 15, 2003; May 1, 2004.
Library Journal, September 1, 1989, p. 219; March 15, 1994, p. 100; March 1, 1996, p. 109; October 15, 2002; October 15, 2003.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 21, 1983, p. 7; January 19, 1986, p. 9; January 24, 1988, p. 12; September 9, 1990, p. 10; April 11, 1991, p. 5; August 11, 1991, p. 5; May 10, 1992, p. 17.
New Republic, November 25, 1981.
New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1979, p. 24; October 26, 1980, p. 20; November 1, 1981, p. 41; August 22, 1982, p. 26; August 14, 1983, p. 27; October 23, 1983, p. 38; December 2, 1984; December 23, 1984, p. 24; March 24, 1985, p. 29; November 24, 1985, p. 43; April 20, 1986, p. 32; October 26, 1986, p. 47; March 6, 1988, p. 22; January 29, 1989, p. 34; April 9, 1989, p. 42; April 16, 1989, p. 31; October 15, 1989, p. 45, p. 56; May 20, 1990, p. 53; July 8, 1990, p. 28; October 14, 1990, p. 50; September 15, 1991, p. 34; February 9, 1992, p. 28; July 5, 1992, p. 17; May 8, 1994, p. 18; March 19, 1995, p. 29; February 22, 1998.
Observer (London, England), September 16, 1990, p. 55
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1985; January 22, 1988; August 12, 1988, p. 442; May 3, 1991, p. 64; March 14, 1994, p. 64; January 29, 1996, p. 84; September 16, 2002; April 21, 2003; December 8, 2003.
Time, July 31, 1978, p. 83; December 22, 1986, p. 75; August 17, 1987, p. 63; February 1, 1988, p. 66; March 16, 1998, p. 80.
Times (London, England), November 20, 1986; November 29, 1986; December 31, 1987.
Times Literary Supplement, March 14, 1986; April 10, 1987; August 12, 1988, p. 893; September 8, 1989, p. 969; August 10, 1990, p. 855; September 13, 1991, p. 22.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 24, 1987, p. 41; March 1, 1987, p. 8; January 31, 1988, p. 6; March 26, 1989, p. 6; November 5, 1989, p. 6; July 21, 1991, p. 3; May 3, 1992, p. 6.
Village Voice, February 24, 1987.
Washington Post Book World, September 21, 1980, p. 14; October 18, 1981, p. 6; May 17, 1987, p. 6; October 21, 1990, p. 10; August 18, 1991, p. 10; July 26, 1992, p. 1; August 16, 1992, p. 6; March 26, 1995, p. 2.
Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1985, p. 487.