Lightwood by Steph Post

If you think of Florida as the Holy Trinity of Tourism: Orlando, Miami and Key West, then Steph Post’s Lightwood (Polis Books), a backwoods crime fiction novel set in northern Florida, will be a bit of a surprise.

Lightwood begins with Judah Cannon released from prison and no one is there to pick him up, not his on-again-off-again wife or his cohorts in crime — his father and brother. As Judah begins the long walk to his hometown, it is time for that “first cigarette as a newly released man” that he would hopefully find as “remarkable.”

Nothing. It didn’t burn. The world didn’t appear clearer, didn’t make any more sense. A pickup truck with a bed full of teenagers screamed past him. An empty Coors tallboy landed on the pavement five feet ahead of him accompanied by an insult to his mother. Judah exhaled. The cigarette tasted the same as the last one he had just smoked standing out in the prison yard. As the last one he had smoked before walking into the courthouse for sentencing. The last one he had smoked after his daughter was born. After he had won his first midnight drag race. Lost his virginity. Kissed a girl. Stolen his first pack of cigarettes. It was the same. It was the same. His brother had been right. Getting out of prison was just another day of getting on with life.

Judah is immediately brought back into the family business with a simple job of robbing the motorcycle gang, the Scorpions. As with any good crime story, things go pear-shaped from there. As Lightwood progresses, we are introduced to the preacher Sister Tulah and the Last Steps of Deliverance Church of God as well as the members of the dilapidated motorcycle gang, the Scorpions. Post develops all her characters fully whether it is from Judah to his life-long friend, Ramey, or the sinister Sister Tulah to her tortoise-collecting idiot nephew, and even the president of the Scorpions, Jack O’ Lantern, with his rather large orange head.

As one would expect from a novel set in Florida, the weather has a strong presence throughout Lightwood.

The air conditioner in Ramey’s Cutlass had been broken since last summer. Even with all four windows rolled down, it was sweltering inside the car. The sun seemed to radiate off the black vinyl interior and dash, intensifying the stifling heat. They were driving down Highway 18, taking the back way up to Kentsville, and Judah had cautioned Ramey not to exceed the 35 mile an hour speed limit. The last thing they needed was to be pulled over by the police on their way to stake out the Scorpions’ clubhouse. Consequently, however, there wasn’t much of a breeze.

Lightwood is great noir filled ravaged dreams and brutish crime. If you are a fan of crime fiction, you should do yourself a favor and read Lightwood — you’ll be recommending it to your friends soon enough.

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