Sometimes friendship is the only thing you can count on. Just before Thanksgiving, an old friend, cigarette smuggler Jeff Starzek, saved private detective Amos Walker's life by getting him to the hospital when he was shot. After New Year's, Walker gets a frantic call from Starzek's sister. Jeff's missing; hasn't been in touch for weeks. It's just not like him.Now Walker, still gimpy and rehabbing, is trying to find Starzek. All he has to go on is his knowledge of Starzek's territory--the Lake Huron shore north of Detroit--and a tip from Homeland Security agent Herbert Clemson. Clemson, who is also looking for Starzek, says the missing man might be connected to counterfeiters with ties to terrorists.Walker can't really see Starzek getting involved in a scheme so different from his usual line of work. When he visits the man's brother, a minister of an evangelical church, Walker finds a huge stack of treasury paper perfect for printing $20 bills--but Starzek's brother is also missing. The counterfeiters are damn serious--serious enough to make Starzek's brother disappear, and serious enough to try and kill Walker when he pokes around their operation. Hell of a way to protect an investment.But Walker, gimpy, in pain, cold and tired, can't give up on Starzek. It's a matter of friendship, and he won't let down a friend. He just hopes his loyalty doesn't get him killed. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
Amos Walker, Estleman's hard-boiled Detroit PI, shows no sign of losing steam in the 18th novel in this Shamus Award-winning series (Retro, etc.). When a routine job tracing a deadbeat dad turns violent, Walker's life is saved by Jeff Starzek, an acquaintance on the wrong side of the law. That act of kindness eventually involves the detective in a murky, twisty inquiry into Starzek's disappearance. The trail leads Walker to a cold, desolate area near Lake Huron and the bizarre Church of the Inland Sea, an evangelical house of worship marked by images of the martyred St. Sebastian. Evidence turns up suggesting that Starzek has moved from smuggling cigarettes to working with a terrorist counterfeiting ring. Unlike many other authors, Estleman successfully introduces a topical post-9/11 plot line into his creation's world. No current writer has consistently evoked Chandler and Marlowe like Estleman, whose steady if unflashy work has yet to gain him the plaudits or name recognition he deserves. (Apr.)
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March 20, 2006
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Excerpt from Nicotine Kiss by Loren D. Estleman
Someone had disinterred "Big John" from the back of the vintage Rock-Ola. Jimmy Dean's bass struck bedrock on the big, bad refrain, buzzing the speakers and rippling the surface of my Carling Black Label, the muscatel of bottled beer. The neon tubing behind the bar cast rose-petal light over everything.
Spike's Keg o' Nails smelled of beer and cedar and mothballs, the last from the blaze-orange and red-and-black-check coats that had hung in upstairs closets from January to November. Two hunters with sooty eleven o'clock shadows taught body English to the shuffleboard table and some smoke-cured campers from outside town trumped one another at euchre with loud oaths every time a card smacked their table. A graying couple danced, dressed identically in jeans and flannel, and a waitress built like Johnny Bravo fox-trotted between crowded tables hoisting a cityscape of longnecks on a round tray. It was opening day of firearms deer season in Grayling, Michigan, where they close the schools as if it's the Fourth of July, and I was the only relatively sober customer on the premises. Even the ninety-year-old moose head on the wall was listing slightly to the left.
Spike's hadn't changed a tick since I was fourteen and hunting with my father and his friends, and he'd said then it hadn't changed in twenty years. He'd pointed out the corner where he'd once seen Cesar Romero, grinning dazzlingly in his three-day whiskers and ordering rounds for his rumpled party. What might have been the same rickety table and captain's chairs were now occupied by a heavyset blonde with a map of every motel in the northern Lower Peninsula on her face and three National Guardsmen in fatigues from Camp Grayling, plying her with beers. She was older than any two of them combined and looked as if she could drink off a case with one hand and arm-wrestle all three of them with the other. She'd practiced on Cesar and his friends.
I wasn't hunting deer, although I'd dressed for the part in a woolen shirt and lace-up boots and let my beard grow for two days to fit in. A lawyer in Royal Oak had hired my agency of one to find a man named Hegelund and keep him in sight until an officer could arrest him on a warrant for nonpayment of child support. He'd quit his job, canceled his credit cards, and left town, and his ex-wife was at the top of the list of people who hadn't heard from him since June. But he hadn't missed an opening day in Grayling in seven years. Going after deadbeats is a lot like deer hunting: You pick your spot, sit tight, and wait for your trophy to come along. Sooner or later everyone passed through Spike's on his way to the woods.
My heart wasn't in it. The lawyer's client had gotten the house, the car, and the dog, and the sixteen-year-old daughter had moved in with her thirty-seven-year-old boyfriend in Clarkston. Hegelund had walked away from the marriage after years of stagnant counseling, giving up grounds, and hadn't contested a single claim. The picture in my pocket showed a tired face with white flags all over it. Hunting him was like cutting the weak and aged from the herd. But I had winter taxes to pay and deadbeat dads are 15 percent of my income.
An hour before closing, the hardcore sportsmen who got up at 5:00 a.m. started evaporating, the juke ran out of dead country singers and sausage tycoons, and the clinking bottles and loud card tournament became the only ambient noises in the room. Then the piano began to tinkle.
I hadn't even known the place had one, but there it was, a basic upright no one had tuned since the moose had reached the age of consent. The party seated on the bench was built close to the ground and wide across the back, like the concrete stop at the end of a railroad. He had a full head of chestnut-colored hair, razored carefully at the nape, and wore a brown leather Windbreaker too thin for the North Country and tan cords rubbed shiny in patches, scuffed white high-tops on his feet. He wasn't my man, but I recognized him from behind. I got up and carried my beer over.