Children shot in the street, corrupt politicians, police on the take, public figures assassinated, crime paying - and paying well. Sound like a dreary recital of today's headlines?

No, it's what was going on in Detroit during the Prohibition days. Loren D. Estleman tells the grim but fascinating tale in "Whiskey River." Estleman, who usually writes about the present-day exploits of tough private eye Amos Walker, turns his hand to historical crime fiction this time out and he does a very good job of it.The story, roughly set between 1928 and 1939, is narrated by a tabloid newspaper man named Connie Minor. Minor and the gangster who becomes his friend, Jack Dance, are fictional, but the events that backdrop them were not. Prohibition and its attendant violence were very real and it got to Detroit earlier than the rest of America.

As Connie observes:

"We had a jump on the rest of the country in the bootlegging department for two simple reasons:

"1. Ontario, Canada, which was also dry but permitted the manufacture of liquor for export, was only three minutes away across the Detroit River.

"2. Michigan went dry a full year before the Volstead Act prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages kicked in across the United States. By the time New York and Chicago got into the business, Detroit had rumrunning down to a science."

A violent science. For those who survived, bootlegging produced unbelievably large profits. Naturally, the competition was rough and, "Violent deaths averaged one per day. Detroit was marked up like a butcher's chart, each portion bearing the stamp of a different marauding band."

Estleman recreates the times vividly, and by the close he has drawn a most absorbing historical picture. - Phil Thomas (AP) .