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P.I.

Poison Blonde, Loren D. Estleman, Forge, $24.95.

Poison Blonde by Loren D. Estleman

Reading a Loren Estleman Amos Walker novel is a complete pleasure from beginning to end. Witty prose, a great and classic central character, and a skillful hand with a plot all make an Estleman novel something to be savored, as does the Detroit setting that flavors every scene. There are so many quotable lines that it's hard to pick one - but to be stingy, I'd say there's one memorable line on every page. Since some books don't have any, this hardly seems fair, but it's the way Estleman books are made.

Poison Blonde finds Amos, unlike the ageless Spenser, admitting to be looking at 50, but he's still in peak form, typing up reports in his crummy office, carrying a gun around even the police think isn't good enough to protect himself with, and going far and above the call of duty when a famous Latina singer named Gillia Cristobal hires Walker to "follow" somebody. Walker follows her dead body to a vacant lot in Detroit, and like the dog who finds the body, he's unwilling to give up on the case even when it gets complicated. Gillia proves both more complicated and more upstanding than she first appears - though Estleman's skills at making the reader wonder about her are something to behold. She's hardly the typical blonde beauty found in so many hard boiled mysteries - though she is that, as well.

Gillia's background as the survivor of a bloody South American revolution is made most vivid by her description of "The Lincoln Question" - a penny is heated and used to put out the eye of the person being questioned if they don't come up with the right answers. There's at least one eyeless character in this book, as well as a vampire bat nailed to Amos' front door. And none of this, in the hands of this writer, seems ridiculously out of place or over the top - instead, delivered in the matter of fact way that Amos comfortingly views the world, it seems like the way things happen. To tell too much more would be to give away more than I'd like to - suffice it to say that though this may be a "noir" novel, it still cheers me up to know that Amos Walker is up, operational, and fighting for good while making pithy comments at he goes.

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