All the regular caveats and such. You’ll notice several short story collections and two books from 2017 I finally caught up with. But first, the Book of the Year.
The rest of the Best listed alphabetically.
Here are some books from 2018 that are worthy of your money as well and, again, listed in no particular order: “Know Me From Smoke” by Matt Phillips, “Welcome to HolyHell” by Math Bird, “The Science of Paul” by Aaron Philip Clark, “Fast Bang Booze” by Lawrence Maddox, “Down the River Unto The Sea” by Walter Mosley, “Accidental Outlaws” by Matt Phillips, “May” by Marietta Miles, “Knuckledragger” by Rusty Barnes, and “Breaking Glass” by Alec Cizak.
Reading books about criminals, thugs, and lowlifes is an escape for me. Hell, reading books about people like me acting in complete desperation is even an escape, an odd one I will grant you that. I also enjoy reading books by authors that are different than me, an old white straight guy. I try to search out for these authors, but given my choice of genre is dark crime fiction, the pickings are slim in the small press world.
So I branch out in the mystery genre to the more popular stuff like serial killer thrillers, cozies, psychological thrillers, police procedurals, and PI book. And when I read these, I am usually disappointed. Hell, I’m even more disappointed when I read these books published by the Big 5, look at my reviews of Meg Gardiner, CJ Tudor, and Steve Hamilton as proof. The way many of these books resuscitate old worn tropes I find tiring and lazy, but many readers do find pleasure in them.
Here’s my problem. If I don’t try are read books outside of what I like, the authors I review will skew 85% male and 15% female, 85% white and 15% writers of color. I know this because those were my stats from last year. Not only is that an issue for readers of this blog, but most importantly this is an issue for me as a reader. Reading over a large pool of writers gives me an opportunity to hear voices that I would not normally be acquainted with and I like that.
So I continue my search of books in the expanded mystery genre that includes many writers who I am unfamiliar with in hopes of finding something good, something I enjoy. And, boy, do I like finding them.
For example, the only reason I picked up Marietta Miles’s “Route 12” was that it was written by a woman and I’m more than happy I read it. “Route 12” has stuck with me these past two years like no other book and it is one I believe that should be in the canon of contemporary crime fiction. Seriously, it’s that good.
I’ve also been lucky a few more times in my search of the mystery genre with JJ Hensley’s “Bolt Action Remedy”, Leye Adenle’s “Easy Motion Tourist”, Stephen Mack Jones’s “August Snow”, and Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s “Snare”. Even with all the crap I have to sort through, these are the books and writers that make it worthwhile to read outside my comfort zone.
This post started as a review of Carol Wyer’s “The Birthday” (Bloodhound Books), but it changed drastically as I wrote. “The Birthday” wasn’t for me at all, but if you dig the typical police procedural that is out there today, this may be for you. Buy: Amazon
Thanks for stopping by Unlawful Acts and reading this article.
Back at the beginning of 2017, Stephen Mack Jones’s “August Snow” was published by Soho Crime. It took some time for me to get to it, okay, over a year, and damn was it worth it. I wrote that it was “a fine private detective novel filled with great writing and a timely mystery.” If you haven’t had a chance to read it, buy it or check it out of your local library. You will not be disappointed.
Damn. How come no one’s told about Stephen Mack Jones’ August Snow? I mean y’all should have been talking about this book.
August Snow opens with the eponymous protagonist returning to his Detroit childhood home, but he’s a man who has lost everything but money. A former cop who turned on his corrupt Detroit brothers in blue has no friends and family, both parents passed away. And as a half-black half-Mexican, Snow straddles both Detroit cultures as well as navigating the racism that runs like an electric hum through America.
Snow returns to his city after a year traveling abroad where he spent quite a few months in the arms of Tatina, a half-Somali, half-German refugee living in Oslo. Snow tells us, he “left Norway for fear of falling in love, I’d also come home because of the magnetic draw of Detroit.” The Motor City plays heavily throughout Stephen Mack Jones’ book, a city once declared dead is beginning its journey back to life. For a city known for its exports of cars, Motown and Eminem, as well it’s financial plight, Snow’s love for Detroit is refreshing and I loved little things like this:
I’ve been to Mexico.
And I’ve been to Southern California and Texas.
But unless you’ve taken the Bagley Avenue exit off of I-75 South to Detroit’s Mexicantown, you really haven’t had good Mexican food.
If reading August Snow doesn’t give you a craving for Mexican food, you’re reading the wrong book.
It doesn’t take long for Snow to get a case even though he’s not a private detective. One of Snow’s police cases was the investigation of the murder-suicide of Eleanor Paget’s husband and the husband’s 16-year-old mistress. Paget owns a bank and she feels that something is not right and she hires Snow to poke around.
Like all private detective books, Snow begins upsetting the cops, the powers that be, and anyone else that gets in his way. What sets Stephen Mack Jones’ August Snow from a run-of-the-mill detective novel is the character of Snow. Broken, Snow takes steps to rebuild his life, to create something new for himself and his neighbors. At times Snow seems to be too nice, but, you know, sometimes there are some genuine, caring people out in the world. Snow could be one of them. His longing for yesteryear is one of his prime motivations that propels him forward rather than being stuck in his glory days.
As we approach the climax, I found myself trudging through the backstory of a bit character in Chapter 31. But after this slight pause, we returned to full-throttle action. And as I’ve been thinking about the ending of the book – no worries, no spoilers –, I understand how and why it all happened, but part of me wanted something different, something not as dramatic. Maybe in a few days, I’ll be at peace with the ending, maybe I won’t, but that’s okay, at least Jones has me thinking about his book. I’m racking my brain but I think there’s a chapter missing in the book: a few times Snow talks about his fiancé being murdered, but it’s a sentence or two, nothing more. It should have been more.
Regardless of some small worries, Stephen Mack Jones’ August Snow is a fine private detective novel filled with great writing and a timely mystery. As for this being Jones’ debut novel, I’m impressed. I look forward to his next book, The Fifth Son, which comes out in early 2019.