LIVES LAID AWAY by Stephen Mack Jones: Book Review

In April of 2017 I reviewed Stephen Mack Jones’ debut novel, August Snow, and showered it with praise.  It was a look into the underside of Detroit that I found totally realistic and gritty, yet with an undercurrent of hope.  I had the same feeling reading Mr. Jones’ second novel, Lives Laid Away, which again follows August Snow in his post-police life.

Unjustly fired from the city’s police force and the recipient of a twelve million dollar settlement for the wrongful dismissal, August continues his attempt to revitalize his neighborhood, Mexicantown.  The son of an African-American policeman and a Mexican mother, both deceased, August knows only too well the discrimination facing both ethnicities.  Now the problems of immigrants, both legal and illegal, have multiplied, and the brutalized body of a teenage Hispanic girl brings August into conflict with both gangsters and the federal government’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

People in August’s neighborhood are scared, and they have reason to be.  ICE agents are following anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (e.g., anyone with brown skin).  Easily-identifiable cars belonging to ICE are cruising the streets, making immigrants afraid to go to work, school, or even church.  And then the body of the above-mentioned girl is thrown off the Ambassador Bridge, midway between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, dressed in the gown and wig of the seventeenth-century French Queen Marie Antoinette.

Her body, without identification, bears witness to multiple rapes and a variety of drugs.  Dr. James Robert Falconi of the Wayne County Coroner’s Office, known to his friends as Bobby, asks August for his help in finding out the girl’s identity.  “Eighteen or nineteen….Somebody’s daughter,” he tells August, showing how the teenager’s death has affected him.

Tomás and Elena Gutierrez are August’s closest friends.  Elena has been an advocate for the Mexicantown population for years.  Tomás is reluctant for his wife to see the photo of the dead girl that August has brought with him to their home, knowing from past experience that, without meaning to, August brings trouble with him.

Indignant, Elena declares that they know that she’s her own woman and doesn’t need anyone’s permission to see or do anything, but when she sees the photo she becomes tearful.  She knew the girl and is heartbroken to see what happened to her.  Then Elena admits that she has been carrying a gun in her purse because of hateful and vitriolic threats she’s received over the past six or eight months.  Her advocacy for illegal immigrants, Hispanic and others, has brought a death sentence to her door.

Lives Laid Away is an all-too-timely novel about the immigration crisis facing the United States.  Like other mysteries I’ve recently reviewed (Bone on Bone by Julia Keller and Shell Game by Sara Paretsky), Stephen Mack Jones has taken an issue directly from today’s headlines and created an outstanding mystery.  The reader is able to feel the terror of the illegal immigrants as their dreams disappear and with that their hopes for making new lives in the United States disappear as well.

Stephen Mack Jones is an outstanding writer and with this, his second novel, he lets his readers hope that there will be many more stories about August Snow.

You can read more about Stephen Mack Jones at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

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