The Sundown Speech is the most recent entry, 25th overall, in Loren Estleman’s justly celebrated Amos Walker private detective series. Dante and Heloise Gunnar were swindled out of $15,000 by a would-be director named Jerry Marcus. Jerry hooked the couple for an investment in a film dubiously titled Mr. Alien Elect, and when he stopped returning telephone calls the couple contacted Walker. It is a straight missing person case and Amos reluctantly takes it; reluctantly because the Gunnar’s, particularly Heloise, are off-putting to his working class sensibilities, and all the leads are in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A scant 45 minutes from his beloved Detroit, but worlds apart—
“The place looked as far away from the Motor City as Morocco.”
The setting is post 9/11, but not by much. The preamble is as cool and stylish as anything I’ve read:
“Roll the clock back a dozen years, maybe more; Michael Jackson was still alive, Iris, too. I could walk all day without limping. Tweet was bird talk, the chain bookstore was the greatest threat to civilization since ragtime music, and the only time you saw a black president was in a sci-fi film. Going back is always a crapshoot.”
And it only gets better. Amos Walker is his usual smart ass and hard-boiled self, and the mystery is something of a locked door job. This time, however—and not to give too much away—the locked door is in the police forensics lab. The supporting cast is college town unusual; big and brassy while lacking experience and boasting excessive aspirations. A photographer who photographs nudes in public places not minding the accompanying public decency ticket and bail money for his model. The local police have a thing for writing parking tickets, and the detective working the case keeps giving Amos a polite, but resolute “sundown speech”—thanks for your help, please go back to Detroit. Amos doesn’t much want to stick around either, but the facts keep him there as the case turns more and more serious, and more and more curious.