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Posted: November 20, 2022

Estleman tells it as he sees it

Book Review

By Derryll White

Estleman, Loren D. (1982).  The Midnight Man.

Amos Walker – cigarettes, whiskey and spices are his serious addictions.  He gets into so many jams, knocked down and kicked around, that sometimes he thinks he’s a soccer ball.  Estleman puts some great phrases into Walker’s mouth such as “the nurse… stared at me the way an antibiotic looks at a virus.”

It is fun to read a story where the gumshoe is looking for a public telephone and finds them everywhere.  The background noise in ‘The Midnight Man’ tends to be the clatter of typewriters, a sound as distant today as the neighbour’s radio tuned to the World Series, late 1950s and familiar.

Having said that, ‘The Midnight Man’ is not a fun read.  It is very heavy – with police stereotyping, racial hatred and impoverishment of the masses.  It really is the picture of what Detroit became in the last years of the 20th century. Estleman doesn’t pretty it up.  He just pretty much tells it as he sees it.


Excerpts from the novel:

DETROIT – It was one of those gummy mornings we get all through July and August, when the warm wet towel on your face is the air you’re breathing, and the headache you wake up with is the same one you took to bed the night before.  Milk turns in the refrigerator.  Doors swell.  Flies clog the screens gasping for oxygen.  Everything you touch sticks, including the receiver you pick up just to stop the bell from jangling loose your tender brain… I’d heard rumors that trees and grass grew between here and Ann Arbor, and on a day like this co-eds there were not known to wear very much while walking across campus.  In Detroit they wore chain mail and carried mace in their handbags.

PRAGMATISM – “If he felt that way, why didn’t he demand a black to represent him?”

“Because the price was right [pro bono], and he didn’t mean what he said.  Because when you come down to it, his type of black is just as bigoted as they claim we are, and believe that only a white man has a chance pleading a black man’s case before court, even if the judge and jurors are as black as he is.  Because he wanted to win.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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