Loren D. Estleman’s City Walls is the 31st in the Amos Walker Mystery series. With a long running crime series and an old hand at writing, the plot is far more new than the detective. This book finds the Michigan based detective in Cleveland to start, a little away from his standard stomping grounds.
Like many such books, this story starts with an old case involving a savings and loan tracking down an embezzler who took $500,000. It is a detailed example of such work, going into what grey areas the investigator could still feel comfortable pursuing in order to earn his keep. In addition to being a nice little joint in its own right, this helps to familiarize new readers with the kind of investigations that Amos Walker is used to.
The central investigation of the book deals with one Emmett Yale. Yale is a commoditties trader who needs someone to look into the seeming random shooting death of his stepson. After a discussion (revealing the stepson had been part of an embezzlement scheme) and a strong drink, Amos agrees, looking into the issue on a professional basis. He quickly proves that he can push the right buttons. Soon an insider trading scandal is confirmed, a major perpetrator is dead, and a local judge has become annoyed at the man. A good bit of work, with a set of strange figures only looking to drag him deeper into a surprisingly convoluted mess.
The dark sense of humor that permeates the rest of the series (like many similar “hard-boiled” novels), appears in this book in full force. Commentary on people losing their train of thought because they run out of racial slurs or bizarre thoughts on loss and work come from the lead directly, while questions of accident versus design in crime are compounded by hilarious coincidences in narrative.
Elements of race and class are in the book, although race is rarely a major element. The amount of money being dealt with in these cases, and the less than subtle acknowledgment that Walker wouldn’t ever see much of it, plays a larger role. Indeed money, with or without anger due to class difference and varied opportunities, is a primary motivator in multiple crimes within these pages. The fact that the first, old case of this is one of them helps to unify the volume and signal deliberate theming early.
With more than two dozen volumes already in the series, Amos Walker fans will be ready to buy this volume on sight. Those that do will not be disappointed, as everything from the character voice to the style of investigation remain the same. At the same time new readers will slip into this particular story quite well, the short initial investigation doing a great deal to catch readers up quickly to the basics of his behavior. References to past adventures and experiences are entertaining either way, and either thoroughly explained or entirely unnecessary to understanding the book as a whole. Perhaps not the first book in the series to pick up, but certainly not a bad one.