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Deus X
by Stephen Mack Jones
Soho Press, Inc.  Nov.  2023

If you are a SMJ fan, as I am, this fourth novel in the August Snow series stands up to the first three and packs a serious punch. Newcomers can delve in here, but it is especially rewarding if you have read the others and begin with a familiarity of the colorful Detroit characters that dot the pages. Those of us going in from before already know that August Octavio Snow is the half Black, half Mexican ex-cop who has been awarded 12 million dollars from a wrongful termination suit filed against the Detroit PD, and has a slight case of PTSD from his stint in Afghanistan. No longer on the force, he nevertheless finds himself involved in another case in Deus X.

The novel actually begins in Norway where Snow is visiting his Somalian-Norwegian girlfriend, Tatina, and where he gets involved in solving a particularly nasty crime. As soon as it is wrapped up, he leaves prematurely to rush back to Mexicantown Detroit to help his elderly neighbor—part of the extended “family”—who has suffered a heart attack. He soon learns of the unexpected retirement of the community’s Catholic priest, Father Grabowski, long-time family friend.  Finding it hard to get any clear answers from the priest as to why he retiredand noting his odd behavior—Snow suspects something is amiss. Could it be tied to the death of a priest in another diocese who was found hanged in the church, an apparent suicide? Snow’s friend Jimmy reports that Father Grabowski, upon hearing the news, said “They’re coming.”  Add to this the arrival of Father Dominioni Petra from the Vatican Office of Criminal Investigations trailing around, and that’s quite enough to send Snow off to investigate, with help from neighbor Lucy Three Rivers, a “hacktivist,”  the “surrogate daughter to his two elderly neighbors.” The pursuit might reveal a dark side of Father Grabowski, but Snow’s on the case. There is a connection between the two priests, of course, and it involves a militia group from the Vatican. I don’t wish to give away more.

The plot is gripping, with revelations coming one after another; lives are on the line, shoot-outs break out, and through all the action, we see Snow, tough and street-smart, but also gentle, kind and certainly generous with his money, determinedly following one clue after another.  I’ve mentioned before how I love it that Snow knows his fashion: easily identifying a pair of Ferragamo shoes, and a Montblanc gold nib pen, in addition to a two-tone Rolex Submariner watch; and how he knows his food and drink:  he can whip up a mouth-watering lunch for a friend—“a lime-and-cilantro shrimp taco with salsa, a brown-sugar-and-jalapeno-glazed salmon taco, and a sangria-marinated beef taco with green sauce”—and kick back with a GlenDronach twelve-year-old malt whiskey. He can dine out with ease at the finest establishments and hang low in LaBelle’s Soul Hole where shady Lady B and staff know everything that’s going on in the city and form a powerful force in their own right.

I also appreciate Snow’s frank talk about certain American icons:  “Sally Hemings endured—suffered—Thomas Jefferson’s Black rape/romance fantasies, all in an effort to know the man’s mind. All for the sake of her sisters and brothers working the fields of Monticello.” And: “The enslaved cook for George Washington always spoke her words in hushed tones, knowing she was being watched. Her delicacies tested before they crossed his slave-teeth dentures.”  The author pulls the reader into his world and doesn’t hold back on peeling back the layers of racism that lace our history—you know, the kind of thing Gov. Ron DeSantis would like to erase.  Bless you, Stephen Mack Jones, and long live August Snow.

© tbr 2024

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