Tuesday, April 28, 2015

World War II Policing in Detroit: DETROIT IS OUR BEAT, Loren D. Estleman

This is a hot time for World War I and  World War II mysteries set in Europe, especially England and France -- and Italy, come to think of it. And there are also some series set between the wars. It's a great time to probe the complications of two terrible conflicts, through crime fiction.

But what about on the home front? Yes, the U S of A, where in the 1940s there was rationing of gasoline and tires, changes of car manufacturing lines to build tanks instead, and a certain patriotism in women pretending they wore stockings, while actually giving them up, for the war effort.

By zeroing in on this era in Detroit, the Motor City (yes, that's where Motown came from, too), prolific author Loren D. Estleman takes a walk on the dark side -- because this was a period of stunningly brutal policing, where the criminal enterprises and the cops stayed connected, and brass knuckles were as much a tool of law enforcement as they were of crime and bar fights.

Estleman's Amos Walker series (1980-2014 and continuing) is set here; so is his "Detroit series" (published from 1990 to 1999), which sets out to tell a significant part of the American story through the history  of crime, gently fictionalized, in a quintessential American city. In addition to his novels, though, Estleman has steadily provided short stories set in Detroit, especially for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, edited by Linda Landrigan.

For his new release from Tyrus Books, DETROIT IS OUR BEAT, Estleman rounds up nine of these tales of his "Racket Squad" -- a plainclothes detective squad of four, showing what it means to be tough on crime under wartime conditions (not enough men, not enough gasoline, and so on). Lieutenant Zagreb, Sergeant Canal, and Officers McReary and Burke are loyal to each other and to getting the job done. But don't count on rules being followed in the process.

For instance, take their arrival at Frankie Orr's suite, on a mission to protect Frank Sinatra, The Voice, from a threat. The Four Horsemen aren't much impressed with Orr's on-the-spot protection team:
The bodyguard tried to roll with the blow and reached under the sagging side of his coat. McReary, stationed on that side, slid the blackjack out of his sleeve and flicked it at the back of the man's hand as it emerged. The big semiautomatic pistol thumped to the carpet. Burke kicked it away.

"Just like Busby Berkeley," Zagren said. "Show some manners. Knock on the door."

The bodyguard, bleeding from the temple, ungripped his injured hand and complied.
Right, so this isn't sweet stuff (and it's from those classic years, too) ... but there's plenty of squad loyalty, lots of dark humor, and a heaping helping of city police life from the wild days of wartime.

So if you'd like to round out your "wartime" crime fiction reading, grab a copy of DETROIT IS OUR BEAT. Hard to tell what the release dates are for the various versions of the book (hardcover and paperback are both listed for May 2 at one online site, but Tyrus released at least one version last October). But if you like American noir with a lot of style from the glory days of the gangsters, tuck this one into your beach bag or briefcase and, as Estleman suggests, "It's the 1940s, gate. Don't be a moldy fig. Get hep, jump to the jive, ring your favorite Jane up on the Ameche, and don't spare the horses."

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