Detroit noir

Handsome coffee-table book melds photography and classic Estleman passages

Estleman fans waiting for an Amos Walker mystery to hit the big screen will have to console themselves with Amos Walker's Detroit, a handsome coffee-table book and lovely pictorial of the Poletown P.I.'s stomping grounds. Published locally by Wayne State University Press and photographed by Michigan's Monte Nagler — with descriptive text by Loren Estleman's Amos Walker — one need not be a fan of the author's writing or the photographer's shots to appreciate it. In fact, those even remotely curious of local architecture and history will likely be interested.

Complementing the photos are thumbnail descriptions of dozens of local landmarks in the context of the Walker series. The architectural observations are brief and unobtrusive and never interfere with the photos. An example: Walker depicts the Ren Cen as a "pretty piece of work and about as necessary as a Tiffany lamp in the home of the blind." Nice.

Estleman's idea for a kind of underworld Walker travelogue rose at a Nagler exhibition that he'd attended — one shot of an abandoned warehouse was of particular interest. "It reminded me of [American photographer] Weegee in its starkness," Estleman says.

"They had just published, on the West Coast, a Raymond Chandler pictorial," Estleman continues, "and I thought at the time, gee, what a neat idea for my private eye. And I forgot all about Chandler's L.A. book, until I saw Monte's work." Next, the writer approached Nagler with the idea of collaborating. Nagler agreed — but, like Estleman, he was swamped with earlier commitments. At any rate, seven years later, Walker now has his own photo book.

Shot in gloriously grainy black and white, Nagler captures Walker's world with a noirish duskiness, as if he sees Detroit landmarks similar to how John Ford viewed Monument Valley. Nagler's high and low angles of the Fox Theatre, and other local monuments, show how his eye moves like a good cinematographer's; you can almost see camera tracks and a dolly operator.

Such visuals only heighten the idea that Hollywood would be knocking down Estleman's door. This is Detroit, after all.

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