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The Witchfinder: an Amos Walker Mystery ()


Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels


Just as Ross D. MacDonald must ultimately be considered to have surpassed his peers -- Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett -- to establish himself as the definitive private eye novelist, so too has Loren D. Estleman distanced himself from other claimants to that Holy Trinity's mantle. Even as Robert B. Parker was more or less destroying the genre by turning Spenser into a superhero with a watertight social network and amoral sidekicks to do his dirty work, Mr. Estleman has managed to achieve greatness withing the classic structures of the genre. His detective, Detroit p.i. Amos Walker, remains a lone operator with few friends, no family, and little help from the folks on either side of the law as he tries to navigate between them without getting himself killed.

The Witchfinder marked Mr. Estleman's second Walker case after a seven year lay-off and the time away only seems to have sharpened his sense of the possibilities of the form. Almost in reaction to the excesses of Parker and Robert Crais and others he's even ditched Walker's one "friend" on the police force, John Alderdyce. And not only does Walker smoke, drink, and feed himself tv dinners as if it were still the 1940's, the economically depressed Motor City through which he trudges is likewise a throwback to earlier times.

More even than the superstructure though, what Mr. Estleman gets right here are the themes that make the Private eye novel resonate so deeply with the American character. Amos Walker is hired by a dying architect in the Frank Lloyd Wright mold who found unexpected happiness late in life with a younger woman only to have the relationship fall apart when someone surreptitiously passed him a photograph showing her in bed with another man. Now Jay Bell Furlong wants to know who wrecked that last chance romance. His right-hand man, the Sydney Greenstreet-esque Stuart Lund, summons Amos and explainshis view of the case:
"Do you know the historical definition of the term witchfinder?"

"I do if it's anything like witch hunter."

"They're not the same. Not quite. The Puritans of your--excuse me, our--New England colonies employed hunters to rid them of witches. The hunters in their turn engaged witchfinders to gather evidence against them, or rather to manufacture it. I'm not at all convinced that there weren't such things as witches, but I do question the statistics of the time."

[...] "In the country of my birth we were quick to condemn the Pilgrims for fleeing England in search of religious freedom only to impose a far more repressive creed upon themselves. But they behaved as they did out of a sincere belief in the forces of good and evil. Christ the Redeemer and Lucifer the Tempter. The witchfinders did not share that belief. They were paid commissions on the witches they managed to expose...
But Amos, with his strong streak of American Puritanism, isn't so easy to convince that there's no witch at the bottom of things here.

The investigation that follows moves at a brisk pace, even when Amos gets himself shot in the head, and the banter is as snappy as the observations are profound, touching on everything from modern architecture to why men prefer lesbian pornography. But as the novel ends Mr. Estlemancloses the circle and makes it clear that Amos Walker is a witch hunter, not a witchfinder:
"The world isn't that cut-and-dried."

"Sure it is."

"I find that surprising coming from you."

"The world's black and white, good and bad, no matter what you hear. The people who say it isn't have already chosen black."
It's that fierce moral sense that makes Amos Walker a classic American hero and this may just be Loren D. Estleman's best book.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

Loren Estleman Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Loren Estleman
    -Amos Walker: Created by Loren D. Estleman (Thrilling Detective)
    -INTERVIEW: Golden Blonde: PW Talks with Loren D. Estleman (Mary Ann Tennenhouse, 4/21/2003, Publishers' Weekly)
    -INTERVIEW: Loren Estleman: Matchless portraits of conflicts and frontiers (James Sallis, The Boston Globe: A Reading Life)
    -INTERVIEW: Think Fast, Mr. Motown: an interview with Loren Estleman (J Kingston Pierce, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Loren Estleman Interview (Mystery One Bookstore, October 12, 2001)
    -REVIEW: of The Witchfinder by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sugartown by Loren D. Estleman (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Every Brilliant Eye by Loren D. Estleman (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Downriver by Loren D. Estleman (Newgate Callendar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Silent Thunder by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sweet Women Lie by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Never Street By Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hours of the Virgin by Loren D. Estleman (Ted Fitzgerald, The Drood Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Hours of the Virgin (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A Smile on the Face of the Tiger by Loren D. Estleman (Ted Fitzgerald, The Drood Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sinister Heights by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sinister Heights (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Poison Blonde by Loren D. Estleman (Andi Shechter, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Poison Blonde (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Retro by Loren D. Estleman (Lev Raphael, Morning Edition: NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Retro (Andi Shechter, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Retro (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Peeper by Loren D. Estleman (GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Whiskey River by Loren D. Estleman (Walter Walker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of King of the Corner by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Edsel by Loren D. Estleman (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Something Borrowed, Something Black by Loren D. Estleman (Thea Davis, The Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Stress by Loren D. Estleman (JP, Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: of Stress (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Billy Gashade by Loren D. Estleman (Dennis J. Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Undertaker's Wife by Loren D. Estleman (Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News) -AWARDS: The Shamus Awards: Bestowed by the Private Eye Writers of America
-BEST P.I. HARDCOVER: Sugartown by Loren D. Estleman
-BEST P.I. SHORT STORY: The Crooked Way by Loren D. Estleman
-BEST P.I. SHORT STORY: "Lady on Ice" by Loren D. Estleman


AMOS WALKER SERIES: Motor City Blue (1980)
Angel Eyes (1981)
The Midnight Man (1982)
The Glass Highway (1983)
Sugartown (1984)
Every Brilliant Eye (1986)
Lady Yesterday (1987)
Downriver (1988)
Silent Thunder (1989)
Sweet Women Lie (1990)
Never Street (1997)
The Witch Finder (1998)
The Hours of the Virgin (1999)
A Smile on the Face of the Tiger (2000)
Sinister Heights (2002)
Poison Blonde (2003)
Retro (2004)
Nicotine Kiss (2006)


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