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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

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.



SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST by Wallace Stroby: Book Review

I’m not sure how Wallace Stroby does it, but he’s done it again.  He’s made me follow a gun-carrying thief, a woman with a long criminal history, and hope she doesn’t get caught.  And I always thought I had high morals.

Shoot the Woman first is the third in the Crissa Stone series; I reviewed Kings of Midnight previously on this blog.  In Shoot the Woman First, Crissa is involved with a male trio of thieves who plan to steal from a city drug lord.  She knows her colleague Larry well and has worked with him before, knows Chuck slightly, but it’s the unknown fourth man, Cordell, Chuck’s cousin, who brought the plan to the others.

Cordell is young and doesn’t have much experience, but he knows how the gang members get their money to a different car each time on a different street, using a Tigers baseball cap as the signal for the car loaded with drug money.  Another car is the lookout, heavily armed, but Cordell insists he knows the gang’s plans inside out and he, along with Crissa, Larry, and Chuck, can take the money  without a problem.  He estimates the haul to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars, which is a nice neighborhood to be in.

Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.  The quartet does get away with the money, but Crissa is shot and the drug gang is after them.   And then the situation gets even worse.

All credit to Wallace Stroby for making Crissa Stone such a believable character.  Even as you know she’s a crook, an unapologetic one at that, you are hoping she will end up with the money and her freedom.  She has emotions and feelings that sometimes get the better of her, and in Shoot the Woman First these feelings of loyalty and responsibility lead her into further danger.  Even as she tells herself that what she’s doing is foolish and dangerous, she continues to do it because it seems to be the right thing to do.  Crissa disproves the old adage that there’s no honor among thieves.

The novel has a number of very strong characters.  In addition to Crissa, each member of her team is distinct–Larry, a friend of long standing, in whom she has complete confidence; Chuck, with whom she has worked in the past only once; and Cordell, an unknown quantity, a beginner in this business, but necessary because he knows where the money is and has a plan to get it.  There are also the members of the drug gang led by Marquis, a young guy who thinks he has all the answers, and Burke, a former Detroit cop who has gone over to the dark side.

The novel’s title comes from something that Burke tells Cordell.  In a situation where there are multiple targets, men and women, “…you shoot the woman first.”  When Cordell wants to know why, Burke responds, “Because in a gang or a crew or whatever, a woman’s got to be three times as tough, three times as committed, three times as hard-ass for the men to take her seriously.”  Burke is right, and he’s just described Crissa Stone.  Shoot the Woman First is a terrific addition to this hard-boiled series, and I hope the novels keep on coming.

You can read more about Wallace Stroby at this web site.

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








DON’T LOOK FOR ME by Loren D. Estleman: Book Review

Alec Wynn is a very wealthy man with a very big problem. His young wife is missing, leaving behind only a note saying “Don’t look for me. C.” Alec knows there have been problems in their marriage–the difference in their ages, her infidelities–but he doesn’t understand why she left and doesn’t want to be found. So he hires private investigator Amos Walker to find the missing Cecelia in Don’t Look For Me.

Alec tells Amos that Cecelia was a serial adulterer, the last affair being with an employee of Alec’s, Lloyd Debner. “I fired him , naturally. ….gave him excellent references,” says Alec. So Amos’ first visit is to Lloyd, who reluctantly admits that Cecelia broke off their relationship because she told him he couldn’t satisfy her sexually.

His next visit is to Cecelia’s best friend, Patti Lochner. According to Alec, “If anyone was born to cause trouble in a happy marriage, her name is Patti Lochner.” After hearing only negative comments about Cecelia’s marriage and affairs from Patti, Amos asks her why she dislikes Cecelia so much. Surprised at Amos’ question, she responds, “Cecelia? She’s my best friend.” With friends like this….

The search continues, with stops at a natural health foods/vitamin store that might be a front for something more dangerous, a studio shooting pornographic videos with Cecilia’s former maid as a performer, and a gambling casino where Amos can talk things over with his friend Barry Stackpole. Cecelia was into some dangerous stuff, or at least sniffing around the edges of some of it, but Amos isn’t really getting anywhere. And then Cecelia calls him.

This is, I believe, the twenty-third novel that features Amos Walker, Detroit’s best-known private eye. Amos hasn’t lost a bit of his quick wit, although that doesn’t go over so well with his present client. When asked how big his agency is, Amos responds, “About six-one and one-eighty….I lied about my weight.” Alec’s response–“The humor I can take or let alone.” But the snarky remarks and quick comebacks are part of the Walker persona. He’s been in the business long enough not to be cowed by his clients, no matter how wealthy or powerful they are. After all, they came to him, didn’t they?

Don’t Look For Me brings back two men who form the basis of Amos’ “family.” One is John Alderdyce, now an inspector with the Detroit Police Department, a big bear of a man with a sense of fashion. The other is Barry Stackpole, an investigative journalist wounded a few books back by the Mob, who now has a bad leg and a steel plate in his head. John and Barry might not always agree with Amos or with what he’s doing, but they always have his back.

Loren D. Estleman recently received the Eye, the lifetime achievement award given by the Private Eye Writers of America. That should come as no surprise, as Amos Walker is surely one of the best known and best loved private eyes in America.

You can read more about Loren D. Estleman at this web site.

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



THE LEFT-HANDED DOLLAR by Loren D. Estleman: Book Review

It’s been three years and counting since Amos Walker traversed the mean streets of Detroit.  Welcome back.

The Left-Handed Dollar is the twentieth Walker novel.  And although Walker has aged, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

As the book opens, Walker is approached by famed defense attorney Lucille Lettermore–“Lefty Lucy” to the Michigan police and federal authorities for her political views.  Lucy wants Walker to find evidence to overturn the conviction of a Detroit mobster for a hit twenty years earlier; by erasing that conviction and doing some legal maneuvering, she can get the ankle bracelet off “Joey Ballistic,” re-model him as a first offender, and earn a substantial fee.

Joey B. comes from a Mafia family, has an ex-wife and two former mistresses, and a once-opulent house where nearly all the furnishings have been sold off.  He’s an old, sick man who’s still denying his role in the two-decades-old attack, a car bombing that left Walker’s close friend, Barry Stackpole, with a prosthetic leg and a hand with less than the usual number of fingers.

If he’s convicted of the minor crime he’s been arrested for now, Joey B. will go to prison for the rest of his life based on his record.  So Lucy wants Walker to prove that her client was innocent of the car bombing, thus clearing his record of that crime and allowing him to plead guilty to a lesser charge for the current crime.

Although Joey has certainly committed any number of violent crimes, he may not have been guilty of the attack on Stackpole.  Ever the bleeding heart, although he would never admit it, Walker takes the case.

As in all Loren Estleman’s books, there’s an interesting array of characters. There’s Lettermore, the foul-mouthed lawyer; Joey B.’s former wife Iona, now a successful interior designer; her partner Marcine, former model and former mistress of Iona’s ex-husband; Randolph Severin, the retired detective who investigated the original crime; and Lee Tan the younger, a physical therapist, and her aunt Lee Tan the elder, former heroin importer who worked with Joey B. years before.

In addition, Barry Stackpole and Detroit Police Inspector John Alderdyce return, the former the victim of the car bombing who is not happy that Walker is investigating the case, the latter the cop who is just an inch away from taking Walker’s P.I. license away for good.  Walker is losing friends fast, and he didn’t have that many to begin with.

It’s good to see Amos Walker again, although I do feel that the repartee between Walker and everyone else strikes a false note. It’s very arch and can be amusing, but reading page after page of it, it gets old.  “I’m riding the water wagon for a little, just to see what the Mormons are shouting about.”  “Next you’re going to tell me they’re breaking up the USSR.”  “Don’t teetotal just for me.  I left my hatchet in my other suit.”  It’s clever, but it gets a bit wearing after a while.  And not very realistic, I think.

That being said, I’m glad to see Walker again.  He’s a rare breed these days–a tough guy with a liberal interior who’s might bend the law but won’t bend his ethics.

You can read more about Loren D. Estleman at his web site.