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A Smile on the Face of the Tiger    by Loren D. Estleman order for
Smile on the Face of the Tiger
by Loren D. Estleman
Order:  USA  Can
Mysterious Press, 2000 (2000)
Hardcover, Audio, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I used to read all the hard-boiled dick novels by authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett with great enthusiasm - stories like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon - but it has been many years since I have found anything that measures up to them. I don't understand how I missed Estleman's previous Amos Walker stories. He delivers the same sort of cynical private eye, wisecracking dialogue and femme fatale - or should that be dame fatale? - as the old pros.

In A Smile on the Face of the Tiger, the gorgeous dame in silk stockings is New York publisher Louise Starr. She and Walker share some history and she hires him to locate an ageing writer Eugene Booth, author of pulp fiction Paradise Valley, centered on the 1943 Detroit race riot. By the way, Estleman's title comes from that wonderful old limerick 'There was a young lady from Niger / who went for a ride on a tiger' - the ride, of course, ending with 'a smile on the face of the tiger'.

All the characters talk tough; from Walker ('I don't need to see a doctor. I've already been mugged') to Booth ('I got out of publishing the way Trotsky got out of Russia'), the female (a sop to political correctness?) police lieutenant Thaler, ex-hit-man Glad Eddie, and the fat old lady with Alzheimer's and the remarkable name of Fleta Skirrett. Walker locates Booth, who promptly dies under mysterious circumstances. The trail takes Walker to Mafia connections, a beating (obligatory in this sort of story and reciprocated) and old secrets important to people in power.

This is a story in the old style and, like its predecessors, light on characterization. Walker stays strong and silent, and the other characters are also pretty two-dimensional. However, the book is well plotted and the dialogue is great fun. If you are nostalgic for Philip Marlowe and haven't discovered Amos Walker yet, try one of this series - I certainly intend to dig out the earlier entries that I have missed.

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