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THE LEFT-HANDED DOLLAR by Loren D. Estleman: Book Review

It’s been three years and counting since Amos Walker traversed the mean streets of Detroit.  Welcome back.

The Left-Handed Dollar is the twentieth Walker novel.  And although Walker has aged, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

As the book opens, Walker is approached by famed defense attorney Lucille Lettermore–“Lefty Lucy” to the Michigan police and federal authorities for her political views.  Lucy wants Walker to find evidence to overturn the conviction of a Detroit mobster for a hit twenty years earlier; by erasing that conviction and doing some legal maneuvering, she can get the ankle bracelet off “Joey Ballistic,” re-model him as a first offender, and earn a substantial fee.

Joey B. comes from a Mafia family, has an ex-wife and two former mistresses, and a once-opulent house where nearly all the furnishings have been sold off.  He’s an old, sick man who’s still denying his role in the two-decades-old attack, a car bombing that left Walker’s close friend, Barry Stackpole, with a prosthetic leg and a hand with less than the usual number of fingers.

If he’s convicted of the minor crime he’s been arrested for now, Joey B. will go to prison for the rest of his life based on his record.  So Lucy wants Walker to prove that her client was innocent of the car bombing, thus clearing his record of that crime and allowing him to plead guilty to a lesser charge for the current crime.

Although Joey has certainly committed any number of violent crimes, he may not have been guilty of the attack on Stackpole.  Ever the bleeding heart, although he would never admit it, Walker takes the case.

As in all Loren Estleman’s books, there’s an interesting array of characters. There’s Lettermore, the foul-mouthed lawyer; Joey B.’s former wife Iona, now a successful interior designer; her partner Marcine, former model and former mistress of Iona’s ex-husband; Randolph Severin, the retired detective who investigated the original crime; and Lee Tan the younger, a physical therapist, and her aunt Lee Tan the elder, former heroin importer who worked with Joey B. years before.

In addition, Barry Stackpole and Detroit Police Inspector John Alderdyce return, the former the victim of the car bombing who is not happy that Walker is investigating the case, the latter the cop who is just an inch away from taking Walker’s P.I. license away for good.  Walker is losing friends fast, and he didn’t have that many to begin with.

It’s good to see Amos Walker again, although I do feel that the repartee between Walker and everyone else strikes a false note. It’s very arch and can be amusing, but reading page after page of it, it gets old.  “I’m riding the water wagon for a little, just to see what the Mormons are shouting about.”  “Next you’re going to tell me they’re breaking up the USSR.”  “Don’t teetotal just for me.  I left my hatchet in my other suit.”  It’s clever, but it gets a bit wearing after a while.  And not very realistic, I think.

That being said, I’m glad to see Walker again.  He’s a rare breed these days–a tough guy with a liberal interior who’s might bend the law but won’t bend his ethics.

You can read more about Loren D. Estleman at his web site.

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