Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman: A review

I picked up this book on a whim, knowing absolutely nothing about the writer or about the book. That's something I almost never do. I always depend on reviews and recommendations to help me choose which books to read, but one has to break the mold every once and a while, right? 

Imagine my surprise on learning that Estleman is actually quite a popular writer of detective and western fiction and that he has written more than eighty books! Moreover, he has several mystery/thriller series going and, since I read a lot of those, it's a bit strange that I haven't encountered him before.

This particular book features protagonists from two of his ongoing series: private detective Amos Walker and professional hitman Peter Macklin. Walker is based in Detroit and that is where the action of the novel takes place, with a side trip to Toronto.

Some anonymous person is threatening to kill Peter Macklin's estranged wife, Laurie, if he does not pay $100,000. Although she's soon to be his ex, Macklin still cares for her and wants to ensure that no harm comes to her. He hires Walker to provide protection for her so that he doesn't have to worry about her while he searches for the person threatening her and attempting to extort money from him. He'll deal with the extortionist/potential murderer; all Walker has to do is keep Laurie safe.

Macklin has searched his memory to find someone who hates him enough to attempt the threatened crime and comes up with a name: Roger Macklin. Roger is his grown son by a first marriage who blames his father for his mother's descent into alcoholism and her early death.

Although Roger hates his father, he has followed in his footsteps. He has all the instincts and skills of a professional killer, making him a dangerous adversary.  

Meanwhile, Walker is getting to know Laurie Macklin and establishing some trust and rapport with her. His part in the tale is told in first person voice in the manner of the classic private detective stories like those featuring such protagonists as Lew Archer or Philip Marlowe. The other characters' narratives are all in third person voice. The action and the perspective flips back and forth between characters throughout the book.

This book picks up two well-established characters that have been featured in earlier stories, which, again, is something that I don't usually do. I like to read series in order beginning with the first entry. In fact, I am fairly compulsive about that, but, in this case, it really didn't seem to make a lot of difference. I was able to "get" the personalities of the main actors without extensive knowledge of their previous history and it didn't seem to matter to my ability to understand or enjoy the tale.

And I did enjoy it. It was well-plotted and the characters engaged my interest and kept me turning pages. I'm not sure if I'll be reading more Estleman, but I've no regrets about following my whim with this one.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars  


  1. I have read this author but only his series of historicals set in Detroit. So far I have read two and found them well written and thrilling. That series is called his Detroit Crime Series and begins with Whiskey River.
    What is uncanny is that both of us discovered this author but mostly by, as you say, a whim. He has a website with all his series and books listed:

    1. He's obviously a very talented and imaginative writer and "prolific" hardly even begins to describe him!

  2. This one sounds like a good mystery. How come if you liked it you are not sure you want to read anything by this author again?

    1. I liked it well enough but I wasn't exactly bowled over by it. I may read more of him later. Who knows? I might be struck by another "whim".


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