RARA-AVIS: RE:"Thin Air" and Estleman

From: Dick Lochte ( dlock@ix.netcom.com)
Date: 28 Jun 2001

Jim Beaver's assessment of "Thin Air" (the novel) is on target. The use of an ad agency to search for a missing person, while probably the concept that prompted the book, has through the years taken a far back position to the novel's truly significant contribution to the genre. That would be the mystery of the wife's disappearance and its solution. As has been pointed out, on this list and elsewhere, since Howard Browne sold the book to Universal for a pittance (I think he said it was $500), that plot device has been used on nearly every TV crime series
(Rockford, Simon & Simon, etc.) and was, I think, the uncredited source for the Kurt Russell film "Breakdown."

The posts taking a less than sanguine view of Estleman's Amos Walker novels (hitting the earlier ones for their overuse of simile, the latter as being contrived) puzzle me. Any book written at the beginning of a career (especially decades ago) will probably suffer from some excesses.
(Chandler slapped Macdonald's wrists for saying an old car was "acned with rust" in "The Moving Target.") These are fairly insignificant, annoying though they may be when read today. The novels are nicely-plotted, the Detroit locations are sharply detailed and Amos Walker is a well-conceived character. Should Estleman go back and take out the similes for future editions? Not really, huh. As for the new books, where's the contrivance? The character has aged twenty years and he behaves as if the years have been hard ones. Robert Parker has noted on occasion that Spenser is his age (60s?), but you can't tell this from the books. He's as ageless as Archie Goodwin. That seems to me a much better example of contrivance.

Dick Lochte

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