STEPHEN MACK JONES – August Snow. August Snow #1. Soho Crime, trade paperback original; 1st printing, 2007.

   August Snow is not a private eye, not in the licensed legal sense, but in fiction “almost” is the same thing as “is.” What he really is is a former policeman for the city of Detroit who, because he bucked the system, told the truth, and ended up winning a twelve million dollar lawsuit against the city. The son of a black police officer and a Mexican-American mother, he calls the rundown neighborhood called Mexicantown home, and when the book begins, he has just returned there after a lengthy sojourn  abroad.

   His main concern is making friends with his neighbors and helping them rebuild their street, their homes and their lives. But when Eleanore Padgett, one of the richest women in the city asks him for help, their paths having crossed before, he says no, and before he can change his mind, she is found dead, apparently a suicide. Although everyone else is ready to move on, Snow is not so sure.

   And if you the reader don’t know who’s right,  you haven’t read enough mystery stories.

   As the author, Stephen Mack Jones takes his time in putting the pieces of this tale in place, brick by brick, using dialogue, keen characterization, and a superb sense of place to move the story along. But to tell you the truth, Snow doesn’t do a lot of detective work. He’s the kind of guy who just plunges into the case (he’s his only client) and sees what kind of turmoil he can stir up. (It also doesn’t hurt to have twelve million dollars at your disposal.)

   And does he ever. It’s only afterward, after you’ve finished the book, that throughout the book he hasn’t been acting, only reacting. If the villain(s) of the piece had only ignored him, or even easier, shot and killed him, leaving his body in some dark alley, all their problems would have gone away.

   Is Snow a loner? By no means. By book’s end he’s gathered together a coterie of assistants, friends and helpers that, figuratively speaking, constitute a small army. The high point of the story occurs considerably before the end, when he and two of his band, along with the two women whose home is being invaded, kill a gang of seven paramilitary invaders intent in wiping them all out.  Lots of firepower here.

   It’s all downhill from there, though, with just a little too much information withheld from the reader to make what follows go down as smoothly as it ought to.

   The book has gotten a lot of nominations and awards (see below), but I demur. This one’s good, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, but it’s also fantasy land. I will read the next in the series, gladly, but don’t expect the next Hammett, not yet, in spite of the award.

       Winner of the 2018 Nero Award
       Winner of the Hammett Prize for Crime Fiction
       Finalist for the 2018 Shamus Award
       Strand Magazine Critics Awards Best First Novel Nominee

    The August Snow series —

August Snow (2017)
Lives Laid Away (2019)
Dead of Winter (2021)