I’m not sure what it is about Michigan that creates great private eye novelists, but whatever the reason, Stephen Mack Jones has joined the likes of Loren Estleman and Steve Hamilton in creating his Detroit based private eye, August Snow. August is a reluctant millionaire – an ex cop who sued the police department – and he now (mostly) spends his time renovating his neighborhood, Detroit’s Mexicantown, one house at a time. When his godmother, Elena, calls, however, he agrees to meet with a dying man about his Mexicantown business.
The old man wants him to buy his business and keep it viable, preventing richer developers from swooping in and creating high end condos instead of maintaining a core community business. While in no way does August want to buy a clunky old business that even the old man’s daughter doesn’t want, neither does he want fancy real estate speculators moving into his neighborhood and he agrees to look into it.
What follows is an entertaining, sporadically violent, twisted story of connections, contract killers and the more down to earth aspects of August’s life, i.e., his love life. While I’ve mentioned Michigan writers above, Jones more closely resembles Robert B. Parker in his full on embrace of humor, cooking, and necessary violence in the service of the greater good.
Jones is a writer who is insanely quotable. His way with words is original and memorable and sets him well apart from many, many other writers. He’s also great at setting the scene, whether it’s the gym where he goes to box, his home and kitchen, or a meet up at Detroit’s Eastern market. These books are saturated in Detroit.
What’s updated about Jones is his contemporary attitude, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. His willingness to slide in zingers about the politics and attitudes of the present infuses his books with relevance. August himself is a bit of a superman – he’s kind, but he’s also stylish; violent but also vulnerable. The people in his life most likely to support and guide him turn out to be women – his godmother, his girlfriend, and the shade of his mother.
Where Spenser had Hawk at his side, August has a whole community, including one of the men he basically took off the streets and who now helps him to flip houses. While there’s almost a fantasy element in these books, it’s no different that the one Lee Child presents in his Jack Reacher novels. We all need a little superman in our lives, and why can’t it be a Mexican, African American, kindhearted soul from Detroit who loves to cook? I’m all in.