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).


Jitterbug

Estleman, Loren D. Jitterbug. Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1998.

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

Confessional: sometimes reading Doyle gives me the sensation of being dropped into a foreign city at rush hour. People are buzzing with energy all around me, all coming and going, going and coming. Worst case in this scenario, I’m blindfolded and spun around until I can’t walk straight. There are so many characters and side plots I’m bumping into everything. So far, Jitterbug is my favorite. It is the least chaotic. I like the viewpoint from the serial killer masquerading as a soldier. Police think the killings are mafia related because someone is targeting citizens who hoard ration stamps. Is it a punishment of sorts? I also liked the time period of life during World War II, a time when desegregation was an attempt to support the war effort, yet racism and prejudice still thrive. Some of the murders are a little hard to take because Estleman lets you into the victim’s life enough so that you begin to care. You learn a little about their struggles before they die and that makes their demise a little harder to take. (Kind of like Game of Thrones when you like a character and are completely bummed when they are killed off too early in the series.) True to form, Estleman brings back well known characters, like my favorite Connie Minor.
Be warned – Estleman uses language of the time to describe ethnic groups. It isn’t always pretty.

As an aside, I loved the reference to Myrna Loy. Who remembers her? Josh Ritter wrote a song titled “Myrna Loy.” Is it about the actress? I’m not sure.

Author fact: Estleman is the author of over forty novels. This is the penultimate one for the Challenge list.

Cars: Auburn, Chrysler, De Soto, Dodge, Ford, GM, Lincoln Zephyr, Model T, Nash, Oldsmobile, Packard Clipper, Plymouth Coupe, Pontiac Torpedo,
Fashion: argyles, bow tie, beanie, bobby sox, cloche hat, coveralls, cowboy boots, cummerbunds, cordovan loafers, denim, evening gloves, fedora, gabardine, galoshes, kupperheimer tropical suit, khakis, leather vests, linen, peg tops, poncho, rayon pajamas, saddle shoes, seersucker suit, tweed, trench coat, wingtips, worsted wool, Wittnauer, zoot suit,

Playlist: Artists – Anita O’Day, the Anderson Sisters, Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, Billy Eckstine, Billy Holiday, Bing Crosby, Blind Lemon, Bob Eberly, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Fatha Hines, Frank Sinatra, Fritz Kreisler, Glenn Miller, Helen O’Connell, Hot Lips Page, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Dorsey, Kate Smith, King Oliver, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo), McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Red Onion Jazz Babies, Sidney Bechet, Scrapper Blackwell, Xavier Cugat, Yuhudi Menhuhn, and Zue Robertson,
Songs – “Amapola”, “Cielito Lindo”, “Contrasts”, “Cow Cow Boogie”, “Cuban Pete”, “Don’t Be That Way”, “Gimme a Pig Foot”, “God Bless America”, “Green eyes”, “In the Mood”, “Let Me Off Uptown”, “Lost Your Head Blues”, “My Shawl”, “Saint James Infirmary”, “Song of India”, “Swanee”, “Star Spangled Banner”, “South of the Border”, “Tangerine”, and “White Cliffs of Dover”

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series sweeping and gritty.

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


Stress

Estleman, Loren D. Stress: a Novel of Detroit. Warner Books, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January when Michigan became a state.

There is always some kind of special assignment in an Estleman book. This time, it’s a cop going undercover in the STRESS (Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets) unit: a plain clothes undercover commando unit accused of using less than law abiding tactics to take crime off the streets. Charlie Battle, nephew to a pro wrestler from an earlier book, tries to make sense of the violence. I like the way characters reminisce about incidents and characters described in earlier books. Their memories tie past books together because the plots are not continuous. The real constant is the biography of the Motor City and the cars on its streets. You can also count on Estleman to make reference to real people and historical events (like Jane Alpert and the New York City bombings in 1969). Mix in gun dealers and a child abduction and you have a different story altogether.

As an aside, Estleman must have had fun with the fashions of the 1970sd with all of its corduroy, wide lapels, crushed velvet, and bell bottoms.

Quote to quote, “If being rich meant having to listen to live music all the time, Kubicek would just as soon take his $300 a week and an eight-track player” (p 3). Thanks, but no thanks!

Book trivia: Stress is the fifth book in the series.

Author fact: Estleman is an authority on American West history.

Playlist: Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons”, Stevie Wonder, James Brown’s “Mama Don’t Lie”, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Thank you Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin”, and Elvis.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series sweeping and gritty.

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


Edsel

Estleman, Loren D. Edsel: a Novel of Detroit. The Mysterious Press, 1995.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state. I also needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.

For Edsel: a Novel of Detroit, we jump back to the 1950s. Former reporter Constance “Connie” Minor has been hired to come up with an advertising pitch to sell the Ford “e-car” Edsel. At the same time, he is hired to be a spy for the United Auto Workers labor union. As he bounces between loyalties and the law, Connie also juggles dating two women. Per the usual Estlemen plot, Connie burrows underground into the world of mobsters, corrupt politicians, and ex-cops with hidden agendas. Once again, it is the dialogue that keeps Edsel hopping.
Like the other Estleman novels, Edsel is a parade of cars: Skyliner, Studebaker (my dad had one of those), Lincoln Capri, Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hornet, Bel-Air, Mercury Montclair, deVille, corsair, Citation, and Roadmaster.
This is going to sound strange, but I loved the last few pages of Edsel. If this had been a movie, the end roll of credits would have been a political and economic snapshot of how 1950s fared. Like the voiceover of the crime noir detective wrapping up the solving of a crime.
What was that movie when someone soandso goes back in time and laughingly asks her family, “you bought an Edsel?” knowing that in the future, this model was doomed to fail in a big way. I think it was “Peggy Sue Got Married” but I can’t remember the name of the actress who goes back in time.

Quote I liked, Israel Zed’s advice, “Time isn’t as important as attitude” (p 85). Two more lines to like, “I had to maneuver my lips out of the way of my words” (p 72), “Young women who are out to seduce fossils don’t begin by telling them they’re two years younger than their fathers” (p 147), and “Never plead problems of health to the man who holds your professional future in the file drawer of his desk” (p 278).

Author fact: Estleman was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Playlist: Little Richard, “After the Ball,” “The Black Bottom,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” “Sixteen Tons,” Teresa Brewer, Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House,” Elvis’s “Hond Dog,” Jerry Lee Lewis, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Frankie Lane’s “Mule Train,” and Bill Haley and the Comets.

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


King of the Corner

Estleman, Loren D. King of the Corner. Bantam, 1992.

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

King of the Corner opens with Kevin “Doc” Miller being released from prison. Doc did seven years time for hosting a party where an underage girl died of a cocaine overdose. He didn’t bring the drugs and he certainly didn’t bring the girl, but he went down for it all nonetheless. It’s the 1990s and Big Auto has been swallowed up by Big Crime. After seven years behind bars, Doc needs a job but he still loves baseball. Somehow he finds himself taking over someone else’s job as a cabbie. Because of his height and overall size one fare. Maynard Ance, convinces him to assist with a bond pick up. And that’s where the trouble begins. Like being sucked down a drain, Doc finds himself pulled into bad company. His situation goes from bad to worse when he ends up on the scene of a murder, s direct violation of his parole. To paint a further picture, if you are familiar with other other “Detroit” books in Estleman’s series, you’ll know why the fact Patsy Orr’s accountant now works for Maynard Ance is trouble. Old ghosts never die.
Pay close attention to what characters say because dialogue drives the action.

Line I liked, “He wondered if the daily routine would just fade away on its own or if he would have to change it himself.” I was reminded of Red from “Shawshank Redemption” and he was not able to take a piss without first asking permission.

Book trivia: King of the Corner was the third and final installment in the Detroit series. Interestingly enough, I am reading a total of seven for the Challenge.

Play list: “Okie From Muskogee,” “White Christmas,” Waylon Jennings, M.C. Hammer, Otis Redding, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, Michael Jackson, Lou Rawls, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Martha and the Vandellas, Elvis, and Anita Baker’s “Watch Your Step,”

Nancy said: Pearl called the whole series of “Detroit” novels “sweeping” and “gritty.”

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


Motown

Estleman, Loren D. Motown. Bantam Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the Detroit series started in honor of January being the month Michigan became a state.

It’s 1966, thirty years later and a whole generation after Whiskey River. The times, they certainly are different. The Supreme Court now demands a search warrant to tap phones. Seatbelts are a thing. Dean Martin has a talk show. The American Steelhaulers Association is a very powerful labor union. What will they think of next? In the midst of all this, protagonist and ex-cop Rick Amery is down on his luck. Only 37 years old and he doesn’t have a stable place to live or a decent paying job. So when Big Auto comes calling to hire him to go undercover, it’s an easy decision. Plus, he loves, loves, loves cars. He loves cars. Did I mention he loves cars? His job is to spy on a safety organization. A guy named Porter is a big advocate of anything that will make the consumer stay a little safer in an automobile. He’s out to expose Big Auto’s shortcuts because they have started cutting back on safety to beef up horsepower, like making smaller brake drums to make room for a bigger engine.
Old characters from Whiskey River like Joey Machine are legends in Motown. Constantine “Connie” Minor is back as a lawn mower salesman having quit the journalism business twenty years before.
Like Whiskey River Estleman pays tribute to the auto and clothing fashions of the time: Sting Ray Corvettes, Volvo, Ramblers, Studebakers, Chevy Impala, Mercedes, VW Beetle, Corvair, Cobra, Camaro Z28, Excaliburs, denim, gaberdine, wool, mother of pearl, suede, silk, loafers, leather, wingtips and wide lapels.
True to the times, Estleman does not shy away from racism and often using language that wouldn’t be politically correct for this day and age: “Nigger killings off Twelfth Street aren’t exactly Commissioner’s priority” (p 48). Hard words to read, but a reality of the 1960s.

As an aside, I agree with Mike Gallente about boxed pasta when he explains, “Directions say 8-10 minutes but that’s at least 2 minutes too long” (p 209).

Lines I liked, “Napoleon was on Elba for only ten months, and he didn’t have TWA” (p 141), “Why don’t you just drop your pants and use a ruler?” (So Enid says on page 152). “Ouzo was slightly less treacherous than the Viet Cong” (p 231), and “He drove down the straight, smooth shotgun barrel of his thoughts, not paying attention to anything outside, trusting his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals to guide him scratchless through the physical world” (p 269).

Author fact: Estleman also wrote a mystery series starring a character called Amos Walker.

Book trivia: Motown takes place thirty years after Whiskey River.

Play list: “Blowin’ in the Wind,””House of the Rising Sun,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Summer in the City,” “The Quest,” Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Cab Calloway, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Elvis, Little Richard, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Supremes’s “Itching My Heart,”, Otis Redding, the Miracles, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Beach Boys’s “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Freedom Road,” Lou Rawls, Little Anthony, “Praise Ye Lord,” the Temptations,” Barry McGuire, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Jitterbug after Whiskey River. I’m reading Motown because it was written directly after Whiskey River. Not sure if I’m right or not.

BookLust Twist: from More 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).