Picks and Pans Review: Downriver

updated 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Loren D. Estleman

"You told me the best was coming," Loren D. Estleman writes in the dedication to his longtime agent, who died last year. "I had it all along." Immodest though these words may seem, they also are hard to argue with. Downriver is Estleman's eighth Amos Walker book, and the sardonic Motor City private eye was never in better form. In this nifty knockoff of the Rip van Winkle legend, a would-be pro-basketball player named Richard DeVries is accused of involvement in an armored car robbery during the 1967 Detroit race riots. The hulking DeVries admits to setting fire to a condemned building but says he had nothing to do with a murder that occurred during the robbery. Nevertheless, he draws a stiff sentence, and when he gets out of prison 20 years later, he hires Walker to help him settle old scores. The world, of course, is a different place by then, and it's amusing to note DeVries' reactions to such newfangled notions as self-service gas stations. The Rip van Winkle riff gets lost as the slightly muddled plot moves "downriver," to the death of an auto-industry executive involved in a stock scam. But the real pleasure here, as always with Estleman, is the cool, crisp writing, the repartee. "So how was prison?" Walker asks DeVries. "Better than no sex at all," comes the reply. Then there are marvelous throwaway lines like: "It made me feel as old as erosion." And: "In the office time hung like a willow branch." Estleman is the Sultan of Similes, so let's praise Downriver thusly: Like a crusty Croesus, this delightful detective novel is hard-boiled yet rich as eggs Benedict. (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95)

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