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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Disappearing Spouses and Dead Boyfriends

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Four years ago, Stephen Mack Jones introduced August Snow, the caustic, mordantly funny hero of his private detective series, at a time when the subgenre appeared to be on the ropes. What a difference an interval marked by civil unrest, an ongoing pandemic and growing income inequality makes: P.I. fiction has never seemed more relevant, and Snow’s third outing, DEAD OF WINTER (Soho, 312 pp., $27.95), stands out among the crowded pack.

What I’ve loved about Jones’s books is how they depict the pros and cons of mutual aid. Communities like the Mexicantown neighborhood of Detroit distrust outsiders and cops; Snow was a cop once, but pervasive racism meant he could never be fully part of the brotherhood. He can, however, try to protect his nearest and dearest, and when the tables turn and Snow is in dire need of aid, they can look out for him as well.

Outsiders, be they billionaires, criminals or fools, look upon Mexicantown as an opportunistic cash grab. Many will get hurt and some will die, but Snow is determined to counteract them all, no matter the cost, particularly to himself.

Wherever you go or wherever you live, you’re likely to encounter corruption and apathy. Lu Fei, the police detective introduced in the first volume of Brian Klingborg’s new series, THIEF OF SOULS (Minotaur, 288 pp., $27.99), has witnessed so much that he’s left a big-city police force for the much smaller Chinese town of Raven Valley, where the deaths of animals count as major events. When we meet him he’s sitting alone at the Red Lotus bar, “determined to get gloriously drunk” on local Shaoxing wine, known for “revitalizing” one’s blood. “Never mind the health benefits — Lu just loves the taste. Sweet, bitter, sour and spicy, all at once. An apt metaphor for life, fermented and distilled.”

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