WHISKEY RIVER by Loren D. Estleman


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Prohibition Detroit--served up with plenty of color and flash, if not drama or suspense, in this first volume of a projected Detroit crime trilogy by the author who's mapped today's Motor City so sharply in his Amos Walker, p.i., series. Estleman frames his story with a 1939 grand jury inquiry into Detroit police misconduct. The witness on the stand is hard-talking former tabloid newspaperman Connie Minor, whose flashbacking testimony covers the waning years of Prohibition, 1929-1931. Yet while Connie is the lens for Estleman's vivid take on flapper days--a midnight whiskey run across a frozen Detroit River; shootouts between Old World mafiosi and slick young bandits; drunken nights in red-lit saloons; backroom deals between bribe-happy cops and money-flush cons--the focus is strongly on Jack Dance (nÉ Danzig), a bootlegger whose meteoric rise and fall is meant to encapsulate the Roman candle spirit of the era. When Connie first meets him, Jack's just a young Jewish hood about to join the crooked army of leading mobster Joey Machine, while Connie's an underpaid reporter with the Chicago Sun. Times; two years later, Connie's a top syndicated columnist with the Banner, a sleazy tabloid, while Jack's breaking from Machine to form his own gang. Connie's narration wanders into several subplots, romantic (troubles with sometime paramour Hattie, a saloon-keeping madam) and journalistic (the tricks and rigors of writing daily copy), but it always returns to Jack and his bloody war with Machine--a war put on hold when Jack is tried for the accidental shooting of a little girl, then concluded, inevitably, with the young gangster's ignominious death in a dingy apartment. A superb re-creation, but lacking drive as Estleman packs his pages with Michneresque plotting and detail that hem his characters into stereotypes with predictable destinies. In short: an impeccably restored Duesenberg with a bum engine.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1990
Publisher: Bantam