Friday, March 28, 2008

Port Hazard -- Loren Estleman

A long time ago, 1981 to be exact, I wrote a short essay on Loren Estleman's westerns for 20th Century Western Writers. It wasn't too tough, since at the time Estleman hadn't written that many novels. I believe there were two books in the Page Murdock series then. Little did I know that 27 years later, I'd still be reading books about Page Murdock, the latest being Port Hazard.

The book is set in San Francisco, on the Barbary Coast and in Chinatown, a coincidence since I recently read and reported on Steve Hockensmith's The Black Dove, which also set in Chinatown, though about ten years later than Port Hazard. Naturally, the set-up is a lot different. Murdock isn't an amateur like Hockensmith's would-be detectives. He's a deputy U. S. Marshal, and a real hardcase. This time out, he gets involved with a shadow conspiracy called the Sons of the Confederacy, mainly because they're trying to kill him.

It's nothing personal. They're trying to kill other prominent lawmen, too, as a way of bringing back the Civil War. (Hey, it makes sense to them.) So Judge Hawthorne, for whom Murdock usually patrols Montana Territory, disregards a little thing like jurisdiction and sends Murdock to San Francisco. Murdock takes along a railroad Porter named Beecher to help him out, having noticed that Beecher seems like a steady hand and cool head. Before long, they're shooting it up on the Barbary Coast while living in a hotel that is so seedy it makes a cave look comfortable. Opium dens, murders, vigilantes, and lots more figure into the plot, which is flavored by Estleman's usual tasty prose.

Read this one along with The Black Dove, and you'll feel like you've spent a while in 19th century San Francisco. Both are well worth a look.


Randy Johnson said...

I've been a Page Murdock fan for a long time. The High Rocks is the only one I haven't read. But, other than his two Sherlock Holmes pastiches, I've not read any other Estleman.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I bought this on my trip to Portland the past couple of days. Randy, I'd recommend Estleman in any genre. He's the real goods.

Todd Mason said...

I'll second that motion. The worst Estlemen I've read was still interesting. And I don't agree with his worldview too much.