August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones
2017 by Soho Press, 312 pages
(I received a copy of the ARC of this from the publisher)
Stephen Mack Jones takes the ball deep in August Snow, his debut novel. A mystery set mainly in Detroit, it fits in very well with novels by the likes of Loren Estleman (Amos Walker is his P.I.), Jon A. Jackson (Sergeant Mulheisen) and Rob Kantner (Ben Perkins, his P.I. resides in nearby Westland). Like these authors with multiple books with the same protagonist (which is where I’m hoping Jones goes with his August Snow), Jones has developed an excellent back story and he’s decided that setting is equally as important as the character and plot.
August Snow, the protagonist, is former Detroit Police. He followed his African-American father into the brotherhood of Police. He’s former Police because he blew the whistle on a problem that dipped deep into the city’s political structure and was fired. He then won twelve million dollars in a lawsuit and after the death of his parents, as well as the murder of his fiancée and unborn child, travelled and drank, a lot. Upon his return a couple of years later, he purchased somewhere around a block’s worth of houses in the Mexicantown area of Detroit (his mother was Mexican-American and that’s where he grew up), working on fixing them up and creating a safe neighborhood environment.
It’s clear that Jones is fond of Detroit and that he knows it well. He’s not afraid to show the more negative sides of the city but is also more than willing to get behind and point out where the city’s coming back. His August Snow is approached by one of the few cops that will still talk to him, Ray Danbury, a Captain in the department, who gives him a slip of paper with a name and number on it—Eleanor Paget—a wealthy socialite from nearby Grosse Pointe (where the old money in SE Michigan resides). She remembers Snow from his work on a case involving her philandering husband and his apparent murder (of his teen mistress)/suicide and asks him to look into the bank that she owns—she’s positive something not right is going on underneath her nose. She’s not wrong, but Snow isn’t fond of the expectations and attitudes of this woman who has been wealthy and in command of her entire life and he passes on the “chance” to work for her.
A couple of days later Captain Danbury lets August know that Paget has seemingly killed herself, and with the same gun the man that made her a widow had used. It’s at this point that Snow does begin to sniff around the bank as his conscience hammers him over the fact that he might have prevented her death had he said yet.
What follows is a suitably twisty plot, with tons of smart-ass quips, both from August and others within the story. Jones gives his readers a couple of hands full of wonderful characters, both major and minor—nobody just shows up and ends up one or two-dimensional. There are scenes involving fisticuffs and gunfire, and none are gratuitous. In fact, Jones does as good a job of detailing these scenes in a manner that allows inexperienced readers to actually envision the scenes as any I’ve read. The book flies by (though I was slowed frequently during August’s meals as he devoured many an excellent Mexican staple throughout and it made me damn hungry). Jones captures Detroit and its surrounding areas extremely well and sets things up nicely for this to not be a stand-alone novel but the beginning of what should be an excellent series following Snow and his exploits over the years.