It’s always a weird feeling to be reading a story set in an area one knows. For this reason, “August Snow” feels like an eerie walk through well-known areas near Ann Arbor. Set in Detroit’s Mexicantown area, mentions of the University of Michigan and Traverse City abound. The way it paints Detroit is one of the greatest joys of reading this book, leaving no stone unturned on the misfortunes of the city, but yet still sounding well and truly in love with the city, despite the flaws.
Following lead character August Snow, the novel carries the reader through a thrilling mystery as Grosse Pointe rich widower Eleanor Paget is murdered at her home. Despite August not being in the police service due to a long lawsuit that took place previous to the book’s arc, he feels morally obliged to investigate and uncover the truth, as he carries an inherent distrust of the police and Detroit politics.
“August Snow” is an absolute joy to read from start to finish; Stephen Mack Jones has infused a real love of Detroit into every page. Characters are full of life, with August being a modern day anti-hero to a T, burdened with responsibility he never asked for but with the moral compass to ensure that he gets the job done regardless. It’s almost a break of convention from the reluctant, mopey heros that many authors are turning to. August is a community leader, cares about his peers, and has been through a crazy life and yet still is thoughtful, polite, and a thrill to follow through his adventures from his viewpoint. This backstory is only alluded to throughout the plot, and helps to create a little intrigue in August; despite the book being written in first person, nothing is revealed clearly about August’s past.
One of the main themes of this book is the strong sense of community that August builds around himself throughout the plot. As a self-described ‘blaxican’ (Black father, Mexican mother), August attempts to balance both aspects of his heritage throughout the book. In several touching scenes, he attempts to help an undocumented immigrant family, surprising them by being able to speak Spanish when they are initially wary of him.
Despite being a crime drama, it’s these small little moments that really make the book stand out as something special. There’s such a wide range of background characters that crop up occasionally, and each time they’re more memorable than the last. A stoic FBI agent with a wry sense of humor, a lesbian couple who live in a mansion near Traverse City, and a couple of old ladies who wear odd knitted hats are just a few personal favorites.
Even at the story’s most stagnant moments, it is consistently saved by the high level of characterization. Later in the book, in the more action-oriented scenes, there is still enough good banter between the characters to ensure the story is not lost behind the occasional action sequence. In fact, nearly every seemingly small conversation that occurs seems to have some greater significance that may not reveal itself until several chapters later. On his journey to solve the murder, August talks to many people, however it is never clear until the very end of the book who it may have been. When the big reveal eventually happens, it’s almost a nonchalant thing, as the murder has taken the back seat to a darker secret.
Stephen Mack Jones has produced a lovable ode to Detroit and the many characters that live there, and although the plot is not groundbreaking by any means, the liveliness of the world he creates is something to behold. With a potential for more books about August, we can only hope this isn’t the last we see of him.