Sunday, May 02, 2021

Cool Detroit Crime Fiction from Stephen Mack Jones, DEAD OF WINTER


Maybe Detroit has something in the water that affects authors. What, you think that's a joke? You haven't heard about Flint, Michigan? They're not so far apart ...

Think Loren Estleman's Motor City mysteries. Jane Haseldine's Julia Gooden series. A couple of titles from Elmore Leonard. Steve Hamilton and Jon A. Jackson place crime fiction in Michigan, too. And then there's Stephen Mack Jones, with his third Detroit crime novel.

DEAD OF WINTER samples Detroit's worn and reworked neighborhoods through August Snow, a former cop who's accepted a huge settlement for the way the city, his employer, treated him in the past. With that money Snow's been rehabbing his neighborhood. Honoring both his African-American father and his Mexican-American mother, he's enjoying a mixed heritage of good food and great friends -- especially his godfather Tomás, who's ready to put his explosive defensive skills to work for Snow whenever needed.

There's blackmail and some kind of real estate scam going on nearby, though, and the family of Authentico Foods owner Ronaldo Ochoa seems pretty strange about whether Snow should step into the dangerous mess, or leave them to make money from it. Good thing August has allies in the police force who thought he'd done the right thing way back when. Then again, there are a few who'd like to keep punishing him, by leaving him to the dangers of a net of billionaire developers creating luxury "safe houses" for international crime.

Meanwhile, Snow's equally international lover, Tatina, is pushing him to straighten out his life and stop feeling (rather alcoholically) sorry for himself.

Watching her dump the remaining half of a fifth of WhistlePig rye down the drain was painful, but I finally, in my confession, was addressing the things that were and had been tying my guts into a million strangling knots.

"People get hurt around me," I said. "That's the way it was in Afghanistan. The way it was at the DPD. And now . . ."

"People are saved because of you, August," Tatina said. She'd stopped pouring my booze down the drain. What a party that would be for the sewer rats of Detroit. "And don't think for a minute I don't know who you are, what you have done and can do. You're not that good of a liar, and I'm not that naive. Neither of us has any rightful claim to innocence."

Snow's crisis of conscience and the way his buddies boot him through it provide an extra strand of interest for a plot that features outsized shooting sprees, abundant threats, and sometimes absurd resolutions (when you finish reading it, tell me what you thought about the deer thing). All of which can't take away from the lively pleasure of reading Jones's enthusiastic and suspenseful storytelling from the point of view of a rich guy who loves the neighborhood. You won't need to read the other two August Snow novels before this one. But you'll probably want to buy them afterward, if they're not already on your shelf (August Snow and Lives Laid Away). They're too much fun to miss.

This one comes out May 4, from Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Fierce Debut Crime Novel from Chris Power, A LONELY MAN


When you look up British author Chris Power online, you find his literary criticism for The Guardian, and his short story collection Mothers. Maybe the noted story collection marked many perceptions of his new crime novel, A LONELY MAN—because his publisher uses terms like "existential" and "elegant literary thriller" to describe the work.

Actually, it's a gritty and intense thriller set in Berlin, with an all-too-believable premise: Robert, a writer with a devastating case of writer's block, casually meets another author, the rather drunk and miserable Patrick. When Patrick gets himself into a public fist fight and Robert and his wife intervene, the two men set a follow-up get-together. The conversation isn't exactly what you'd expect from a pair of writers getting together:

'You were telling me how you made your fortune writing this oligarch's memoirs,' Robert said.

'My fortune, yeah. Well, it fell apart.'

'Why?'

'Vanyashin died. Last year.'

'How?'

'The inquest said suicide,' Patrick said. 'Just announced it, in fact. The coroner gave his verdict last week.'

But Patrick claims it wasn't suicide. He's so drunk, and such an obvious mess, that Robert has no problem laughing this off, and calling Patrick suicide. Russian oligarch, dead of suicide -- anything else is clearly product of an overactive, alcohol-fueled imagination. But he might as well use this amusing paranoia in his new author buddy as fuel for jump-starting his own fiction. Right?

Well, maybe not so right. While evidence piles up around him, Robert keeps labeling his sightings of people following him, or Patrick, as imagination, but with more edge, more underlying terror. And when his family comes under threat, his worst imaginings aren't equal to the risks.

A tightly knitted, sharply paced espionage/crime novel, A LONELY MAN is well worth devouring. Berlin never looked so much like, well, any large city you too might walk into, looking for a story worth telling. Readers beware: The presence of friendship and affection does not guarantee everything will work out -- especially when danger's already been pushed aside for so long.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here. 


Dark and Terrorizing: THE DEAD HUSBAND from Carter Wilson


Rose Yates hasn't lived in New Hampshire since she was a teen—so returning to her father's house at age 37 as a new widow, with her 11-year-old son Max, looks like trauma from the start. Carter Wilson quickly makes it clear that Rose doesn't blame herself for her husband's death, which has been ruled accident verging on suicide (pills and alcohol). But something terrible happened when she was growing up in Bury, New Hampshire, and readers won't know the details until very late in the book. Still, the guilt that permeates Rose is so powerful that on Max's first day of school, when she gets a call to come pick him up at mid day because he has threatened a girl in his class, she's already got a mantra that won't cease: It's all my fault.

Wilson turns THE DEAD HUSBAND into relentless suspense by setting next to Rose's voice an alternative point of view, that of an obviously nice and smart Wisconsin detective who's caught a whiff of the too-quick processing of Rose's husband's death. Colin Pearson doesn't necessarily want to pin Rose for murder (though she can't help feeling he does), but he knows something's off. 

Colin went with his gut, knowing there was something. There was something about Bury. if not outright malevolent, then at least mysterious. Suspicious. There are no perfect communities. Every town has a stain. 

When Colin's research takes him back to the town's one serious crime of the past, a missing boy, he cuts across the desperate route that Rose Yates is already racing along. Manipulated by her father, tormented by her sister, and unable to protect Max effectively, Rose needs Colin as an ally. But is that even possible, considering what happened in Bury, so long ago?

This dark thriller will keep readers on edge all the way through, with a tight plot and macabre and memorable family drama. The book's final twist shows exactly how the past and present intersect, with terrible consequences. Don't read this one for a happy ending. That said—you won't easily forget what Rose both reveals and discovers, at a very high price. [From Poisoned Pen Press, publishing on May 4.]

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here. 

Brief Mention: LADY JOKER, Volume 1 of Kaoru Takamura's Japanese Crime Epic


LADY JOKER came out in mid April with many thoughtful reviews. At 576 pages, it's far from beach reading. Even the reviews have been on the long side -- really, they have to be. One of the most enjoyable articles on the book's release from Soho Press is this interview with editor and publisher (and author) Juliet Grames, full of its own twists. From the true-crime basis of the three-volume epic (the Glico-Morinaga case of the 1980s) to the challenges of translation, the interview itself is compelling.

Though LADY JOKER is a suspense novel and came out under the Soho Crime imprint, it also fits two other notable descriptions: It's obviously the Japanese version of the Godfather series, rich with the frictions of Japan's own caste system and the criminal temptations of corporate greed and advantage, framed around a high-stakes kidnapping. And it's a scorching indictment of capitalist manipulations of both government and society—one that could as easily apply to America or today's Russia as it does to Japan. If the love of money is the root of evil, Kaoru Takamura's portrait of the postwar profiteering and manipulations of the Hinode Beer Co. shows five decades of festering injustice, evil, and eventually manipulative and ruthless violence.

This book requires slow, persistent reading, as it's not constructed with "thriller" props or passionate emotions. But for those who savor the view of our global perils through the lens of all-too-human history, it's a dark treasure well worth the time for reading.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.