Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

What really makes Soho's crime novels stand out is their settings. You truly feel transported, whether the book is set in Bath, England, Paris, France, or, as in this book, Detroit, Michigan. Now, you might not think you want to spend time in Detroit, but I've been there a couple of times in the last 5 years and it's really not bad. Unlike what the news reports, there is still stunning architecture, nice people, and interesting culture (I highly recommend the DIA, the Detroit Institute of Art.) That said, I'm not going to stroll around the more deserted areas alone at night. It is still very much a struggling city. And that's why it's easy to admire a man like August Snow, who won a large lawsuit against the city, and after travelling, decided to not only move back to his old neighborhood, Mexicantown, but to buy up most of the empty houses on his block and fix them up and rent them out.

August was a cop, like his father, but he got involved as a whistleblower in a corruption scandal (details are murky) and so on his return, he's pretty much friendless in the city. None of his old officer friends are willing to still be his friends, thinking he was disloyal. But he's not sure what else to do with his life but go home. Then a woman he'd known back then gets in touch, Eleanore Paget, the head of a local bank. She thinks something fishy is going on and wants August to investigate. He tells her he's no longer a cop and he's certainly not a PI, but she won't give in, losing her temper and screaming to try to get him to help. August stands firm. Next thing you know, she's dead. Supposedly a suicide but it sounds suspicious to August. He feels guilty about not helping her when she asked, so he decides to do some asking around now, and soon finds himself involved in a big mess up to his neck.

I loved the local color in this book, the descriptions of the people and the food of Mexicantown was very visceral and made me hungry. It all felt very authentic, and it obviously came from a place of love for the city. The plot was appropriately twisty and there were a few scenes of violence that not only weren't gratuitous, but explained the fight or the shoot-out in such a clear way that I've rarely experienced in those scenes. I could have done without a lot of the old-school behavior with the police—a fair amount of yelling, threats of retribution, some misogyny. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but those parts had a very 1970s feel to them. But that was a minor flaw in an otherwise rip-roaring crime novel that flies along at breakneck speed. If you like your mysteries gritty, this one's for you.

But sadly, you can't get this book for a few months. It comes out in February 2017. This book is published by my employer, Soho Press.

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