Mystery Summit: Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland at the AADL


Loren Estleman

Loren Estleman is very serious ... about writing good books.

It was a dark and stormy night as the attendees huddled in the library basement to hear three mystery writers talk about their new books. As the first author began to speak, thunder crashed, the lights went out, and a scuffle broke out in the dark. When the lights returned, the entire audience was kidnapped!

OK, I should probably keep my day job and leave the mystery writing to the professionals. Lucky for us, Michigan is the birthplace of some of the best mystery writers in the country and three of them -- Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland -- are appearing at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown branch on Friday, March 3.

Doug Allyn

Doug Allyn's latest book boxes with the Purple Gang and more.

Edgar Award-winning author and Bay City native Doug Allyn’s new novel, The Jukebox Kings, introduces boxer Mick Shannon, a man who was recently released from prison and quickly gets in trouble with the Detroit mob. Set in the early 1960s, the book features nods to the Purple Gang, Motown, and more.

Laura Joh Rowland’s new book, The Ripper’s Shadow, features photographer Sarah Bain, a London photographer investigating Jack the Ripper. The author was born and raised in our fine state and now resides in New York City.

Laura Joh Rowland

Laura Joh Rowland's latest novel is a real ripper.

Loren Estleman’s The Lioness Is the Hunter is the latest book in the highly acclaimed Amos Walker series that details the cases and personal life of the Detroit-based detective. This entry puts our hero in the crosshairs of some dangerous international crime figures as well as shady homegrown folks.

The first book in the Walker series, Motor City Blue, was published in 1980, so Estleman has had to keep up with changes in the city of Detroit.

“I track Detroit’s evolution; one of my research files is labeled ‘Detroit: Changes,’ and I’m always adding to it," Estleman said. "Lioness deals with the wholesale gobbling up of landmark buildings by wealthy individuals fronting for China. That’s not very upbeat, I know. I’m dragging my feet on joining the ‘we’re back’ bandwagon. Downtown’s healthy; but then it’s always been, despite what happened to J.L. Hudson’s, whose demise merely anticipated the current state of department stores in general. The neighborhoods, particularly on the west side, are basically a Third World nation, with vast tracts of deserted houses on their way to joining the biggest collection of vacant weed-grown lots in the U.S.”

That said, Estleman adds, “Detroit’s been too good to me for me to stand by and say nothing.”

While mysteries are the focus of Friday’s library event, Estleman’s talents extend to multiple genres including historical fiction and westerns. Because of his skills and versatility, he's been feted by everyone from the Private Eye Writers of America to the German Association for the Study of the Western to our own Arts Alliance. You can borrow a large body of Estleman's multifaceted books from the Ann Arbor District Library, which thrills him.

“I think lending libraries are Ben Franklin’s greatest invention," Estleman said. "We didn’t have one in my hometown when I was a boy, so it was a grand day when the bookmobile showed up. The first time it came my mother threw my brother and me into her 1950 Buick and tore rubber down to the railroad yard where the converted bread truck was parked. To this day, the smell of diesel oil and stale bread makes me happy. As a writer, I’m happy that new readers have the choice of borrowing one of my books free of charge or buying one in a store that sells used books. If it hooks them, they may not want to wait next time and pay full price; if they don’t like it, they won’t resent me for draining their bank accounts.”

The venerable Aunt Agatha’s bookstore is co-sponsoring Friday's event at the library, and store co-owner Robin Agnew will moderate the panel discussion.

“I am looking forward to this event!" she said. "I've known Loren and Doug forever and always enjoy seeing and talking with them, and Laura Joh is a treasure. Our customers have loved her long-lived San Ichiro series, and this latest, with a female photographer as the protagonist, is really a lot of fun. I'm planning to ask a lot of questions about writing historical fiction. I know Loren's new book is an Amos Walker, but he does write historical fiction, and I always find that topic really interesting. Loren never disappoints!”

Echoing the praise, Estleman said, “I love Aunt Agatha’s, both for their support of my work and for the thrill I get out of browsing their shelves. It’s a friendly place, a kind of club for mystery fans to gather and discuss their shared interest with people who understand the genre. Its customers are intensely loyal -- Jamie [Agnew] and Robin treat them right, that’s why; and they treat writers like royalty. When they’re in charge of a signing I get to feel like John Grisham for a day.”

Estleman said he will continue to write and publish as long as readers and publishers allow. While the publishing industry struggles with the pace of technology, the longtime writer pointed out, “If you believe what the Sad Sacks are always saying, it’s been in the worst trouble it’s ever been in as long as I’ve been part of it. But it survives and, in fact, it flourishes. Modern innovations like the internet come and go, but the written word preserved on paper has been around since the Tigris and Euphrates were trickles. It’ll still be here long after people start saying, ‘What’s Google?'”

And Estleman’s books will be around long after that, too, especially on those dark and stormy nights.

Patti Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cats.

Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland appear Friday, March 3, 7 pm, at the Downtown library's multi-purpose room, 343 South Fifth Ave. Aunt Agatha's with have books available for purchase and signing at the library.