If you are a prolific writer like Loren D. Estleman, coming up with ideas would not likely to be a major problem. Obviously. I suspect the problem lies with containing them. It must be an overwhelming temptation to include all the possibilities that occur to you while in the act of writing. Yielding to such could very well work out, but more likely too much inspiration runs the risk smothering the story and blunting the point. From the macro perspective, though, it is anything but a problem. Case in point: the novels that has become known as the Detroit Crime Series. The trilogy now has seven entries.
Whiskey River is the first in the series–which examines through fiction the city of Detroit during a particular decade of the 20th century–and as the title might suggest the backdrop here is the Prohibition Era. The narrator is Connie Minor, a newspaper columnist, who is young and brash and naïve enough to think he knows how the world works. One night he innocently befriends a stranger in an underground speakeasy, never suspecting this man would soon begin his rise through the underworld. It’s an unexpected relationship that serves both men, and through the reporter’s eyes we are allowed to experience the life of a 1930s gangster. One of the most effective scenes, in the dead of winter, has Minor in a ride-along with a clandestine nighttime caravan that crosses a frozen Lake Erie in order to smuggle alcohol into the United States from Canada. These kinds of excursions both thrill and scare Minor as they simultaneously feed his ever-growing career. But there too comes a point where in the company of a rival mob boss he witnesses a gruesome murder, sudden and sickening and intentionally up close; a stern reminder of his vulnerability. Minor must continue to find ways to do his job while navigating a corrupt and dangerous city that has slowly come to see him as a participant in its struggles, a position that automatically places him as an ally to some and an enemy, if only by association, to others.
Whiskey River balances the life of Connie Minor, his wants and needs and fears, with the story of a wide open city. It was a balancing act Estleman needed to introduce and maintain. He was constrained by history. Too much of the sweeping wide-ranging elements of his story were preordained. They could not be manipulated to suit the needs of a novel. Estleman needed the human element for that. Connie Minor’s presence from beginning to end was the only way to arrange a satisfying conclusion. It’s what makes the book much more than a glimpse at a piece of the history of Detroit.
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