My wifeís been a big fan of Loren D. Estleman since before we were married, but I never read any of his novels. When the chance to read his latest book, The Left-Handed Dollar, came up, I jumped at the opportunity. I had to see what had kept her enthralled all of these years - and it was definitely worth it. Dive right in. The water's fine.
The Left-Handed Dollar is another in the long series of books about private detective and Detroit native Amos Walker. He's been hired by a crafty lawyer, Lucille Lattermore (known as "Lefty Lucy"), to clear the name of noted mobster Joey "Ballistic" Ballista. Unfortunately for Amos, the crime he's been asked to clear him of is the bombing (and maiming) of his best friend, investigative reporter Barry Stackpole. That could cause problems. So could the fact that former witnesses and potential snitches are dropping like flies around him.
Estleman's story fits like a well-worn glove, including all the comfortable tropes I hadn't realized were missing from some of the other mysteries I've read lately. Walker is the perfect example of the hard-boiled detective, slightly modernized. A private investigator who has an unstable relationship with the police. He's not swimming in money, and he's a loner at heart (though Amos was apparently married at one time). While he has recently become more familiar with wireless technology, he still doesn't like using computers.
Estleman's characters bring The Left-Handed Dollar to life with crackling dialogue and a couple of femmes fatales. Walker's cynicism is on display, his intelligence and quick wit, too. The others involved in the investigation are given enough depth that the reader doesn't have a clue who the culprit is.
The city of Detroit almost qualifies as a character itself. Estleman illustrates the class differences in the variety of Detroit suburbs, the corruption that has been part of the city's history, even the at-times strange weather. For a rather short book, he spends a lot of time describing Walker's surroundings and some of the historical and social aspects of the area he's driving around in. Itís interesting this time around, though if that's a regular feature of Estleman's novels, it could get tedious.
The best thing about the book, however, is the wonderful detective atmosphere that Estleman provides. You can tell he's been writing this character for thirty years. Despite some of the modern conveniences, Walker is an old-school detective, the very definition of "hard-boiled." No amount of updating can remove that attitude. I can almost picture him in a trench coat and hat.
While no novel is ever perfect, any faults in The Left-Handed Dollar are so insignificant that they don't detract from any enjoyment the novel brings. If you don't like hard-boiled detective novels, there is nothing for you here. But if you're a fan of the genre and haven't checked Estleman out, this is as good a place to start as any.