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Book Author: Stephen Mack Jones

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.

 

 

AUGUST SNOW by Stephen Mack Jones: Book Review

A poet, a playwright, and now a novelist–Stephen Mack Jones is an amazing literary talent.   August Snow is an excellent debut.

Snow, the son of a Mexican-American mother and an African-American father, followed the latter as an officer in the Detroit police department.  Following August’s reluctant exposure of a scandal that reached into city and state governments, he was fired; in a trial that found his firing unjust, he received a twelve million dollar settlement.

Obviously that changed August’s life, but it didn’t help him deal with the deaths of his beloved parents and the murder of his fiancée and their unborn child.  He left the United States for a couple of years, did some heavy drinking while he was away, and has now returned to his familial home in Mexicantown, a rundown neighborhood in the Motor City.

Soon after August returns home he’s approached by Ray Danbury, a captain in the city’s police department and one of the very few friends the ex-cop still has in Detroit.  Ray gives him a piece of paper with the phone number of Eleanor Paget, a mover and shaker in all areas of the city thanks to the affluence of her ancestors, and tells him to call Eleanor at once.  August knows her and knows she’s a woman with a volatile temper and shaky self-control, but he reluctantly agrees to see her.

When he goes to Eleanor’s house, she informs him that there’s something “wrong” at her family’s bank.  Although August promises to look into the matter, he tells her he’s not optimistic about his ability to find out anything since he’s no longer on the force nor is he a private investigator.  Not surprisingly, given her temperament, Eleanor becomes enraged at this and tells him not to bother.

However, August feels some compassion for Eleanor, due to his involvement in a case involving her late husband.  He tries, without success, to do a little detective work for her despite her abrupt dismissal of him.  A few days later, Captain Danbury comes to August’s home with the news that Eleanor has been found dead, an apparent suicide.  It seems an open-and-shut case, but it’s being investigated because of Eleanor Paget’s place in the community and the fact that the gun found next to her body is the same one that her husband used to kill himself and his teenage mistress years earlier.

At the autopsy, August thinks to himself, “It was difficult looking at Eleanor lying on a metal slab….It was even harder to look at her and know that maybe I could have done something.”  So he begins investigating again.

Stephen Mack Jones has written an engrossing mystery featuring a compelling protagonist trying to make a difference in the tough city that he calls home.  All the characters, major and minor, are totally realistic; your attention will be captured from the first page.  August Snow is a book that’s outstanding from beginning to end.

You can read more about Stephen Mack Jones at several web sites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.