MOTOWN by Loren D. Estleman


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 Sinewy second volume of Estleman's projected three-part paean to crime in Detroit. It's 1966, and much has changed since the Prohibition days of Whiskey River (1990): now Detroit is famed for cars, not booze; its crime has spread from saloons to boardrooms; and its upstart gangsters are black, not Jewish. But much remains the same: The Mafia still dominates crime, and crime still gives the city the husky, hard-nosed nature so vigorously limned here by Estleman. The story unfolds through three intercut plotlines. The briefest, yet most resonant historically, follows police inspector Lew Canada as he digs into the early sins of labor leader Albert Brock (read: Jimmy Hoffa) for dirt to leverage Brock into staving off an incipient race war between black and Italian mobs. With help from the now-aged reporter Connie Minor--who narrated Whiskey River- -Canada finds the mud in an incriminating photograph and flings it at Brock in a confrontation redolent with the stink of the blood and sweat that built Detroit. Canada also figures in the galvanic second plotline--pointing to the city's future rather than its past--as he monitors two black racketeers about to mix it up with the Mafia. Caught in a squeeze between rival father and son Mafia bosses, Quincy Springfield and Lydell Lafayette prove the story's richest, most endearing characters, whose efforts to save their numbers rackets from mob takeover end in affecting tragedy and a political firestorm. Then there's the third plotline, detailing the conversion to consumer advocacy of an ex-cop hired by GM security to dig dirt on auto-industry gadfly Wendell Porter (read: Ralph Nader); though sleek and informative of Motown's corporate sins, it seems an anomalous, even superfluous, subplot. Less a painstaking re-creation like Whiskey River than a brawny--if patchy--urban portrait that's close in spirit to the author's Amos Walker p.i. series. As usual, Estleman's sly prose is good enough to make you read more than one page twice.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 0-553-07421-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991


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