Thunder City

Estleman, Loren D. Thunder City: a Novel of Detroit. Tom Doherty Associates, 1999.

Reason read: to finally finish the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.

Once again Estleman takes a look at the history and controversies of the automobile industry and the lure and mystique of it’s counterpart, organized crime. It was interesting to think of the people in the streetcar business prepping for the advent of cars and Ford’s competitors who looked to bring him down on the basis of a broken moral compass. Even more interesting was the advent of the iconic Ford logo. The revolving door of characters will make your head spin if you let them. I was compelled to keep notes on all of them although it didn’t help. James Aloysius Dolan (aka Jimmy, Big Jim, Boss Dolan, Honorable James A. Dolan, Diamond Jim, Irish Pope, or Himself depending on who you ask) was my favorite character. Wealthy, knows Yiddish, fat and Irish, James has held the titles of Railway Commissioner and chairman of State Democratic Party. He is married with children and has a manservant named Noche. He’s an all around shady guy, but I liked him.
A note on the Novel of Detroit series: I read the books in the order in which they were written, but to get a sense of chronology they should be read differently. Start with Thunder City (1900-1910), then move on to Whiskey River (1928 – 1939), Jitterbug (1943), Edsel (1951 – 1959), Motown (1966), Stress (1973) and end with King of the Corner (1990).

Definition of a marriage: “Dolan had forbidden her to modernize her appearance, and she had decided to allow him to” (p 15).

Author fact: Estleman wrote a bunch of novels beyond the Detroit series. I am only reading one other book, Sugartown (book 5 of the Amos Walker series).

Book trivia: Thunder City is the last book I am reading for the Detroit Series.

Playlist: Caruso, “Star Spangled Banner”, “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Thunder City.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest, Michigan” (p 26).


Whiskey River

Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2015.
Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Bantam books, 1990.

Reason read: Michigan became a state in January.

The first novel in Estleman’s Detroit series, Whiskey River, takes the reader into Detroit’s dark and dangerous Prohibition era where true events and real people are cooked together with vivid imagination, humor and grit to serve up a tasty story. Torture, murder, prostitution, political scandals, suicides, grand jury trials, corruption, and Detroit’s seedy underground keep the reader enthralled.
Constance “Connie” Minor goes from having bylines in the local newspaper to his own column in the tabloids. The price for this upgrade? Riding shotgun with warring mob bosses, Jack Dance and Joey Machine. He gets a ringside seat to kidnappings, smuggling, and up-close and personal torture and murder. Why is so liked by these mobsters is beyond me.
Hattie was one of my favorite characters. By day her establishment was a funeral home but by night the lights were turned low for more “lively” entertainment. She was a dame who took no gruff from anyone.
As an aside, I found the inequality and racism a little difficult to stomach, especially since nothing has changed since the 1930s: “Is he white?…If he weren’t they wouldn’t have bothered to call it in” (p 57).
I most enjoyed Whiskey River as a period piece. the 1930s comes alive with the vernacular, fashion, and transportation of the day: spats, derbies, top coats, silks, wingtips, stoles, fedoras, stockings, LaSalles, Auburns, Packards, Model As, Vikings, Buicks, and blind pigs.

Quotes I liked, “Remember, it took a fresh kid to tell the emperor his ass was hanging out” (p 30), “Someday maybe I’ll learn not to write the whole story until I’ve met its subject” (p 37), “Something had gone wrong with the natural order when an Oklahoma train robber was shot to death at the wheel of an automobile in downtown Detroit” (p 67), “Courage is the first casualty of experience” (p 92), and lastly, “A dream come true: I had a gangster for a critic” (p 199).

Author fact: Estleman won the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus award three times.

Book trivia: Whiskey River is the first in seven novels about Detroit. I am reading all of them for the Challenge.

Playlist: Bessie Smith, “Potato Head Blues,” Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, King Oliver, “Royal Garden Blue,” “What a Friend I Have in Jesus,” Praise God, For Whom All Blessings Flow,” and Glen Gray’s “Casa Loma Stomp.”

Nancy said: Pearl explains there are seven “Detroit” novels and calls them sweeping and gritty (More Book Lust p 26).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 25).