Police corruption and violence run rampant in poet and playwright Stephen Mack Jones’s debut novel, August Snow (Soho Crime, Feb. 2017). The title character, Snow, the son of a black father and a Mexican mother, is back in hometown Detroit a year after winning a $12 million settlement from the city after being driven out of the Detroit Police Department thanks to the actions of a corrupt partner. Now there’s a murder to investigate, and Snow is pulled back into a world he thought he left behind.
Why did you decide on a plot that is driven by police corruption and violence?
It’s a little uncomfortable for me to discuss, primarily because I have never really experienced such a thing. I know that it exists. That it exists is just a fact of life in America, especially in this age of the immediacy of social media. Though it may be uncomfortable for me to talk about, based on my personal experience, I look at what happened in Ferguson and what’s happening now with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and I find it unbelievable and unconscionable that in both cases you see on one side people who may be carrying placards and chanting, and on the other side, you see armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and face masks.
Why did you choose crime fiction as a medium for addressing these issues?
Crime fiction is a great platform to have these discussions, not necessarily as a full-fledged sounding board, which easily becomes politicized, but as a reflection of who we are as a people, who we are as a nation. To deny these things is just a denial of the reality that impacts us all. Readers are very, very smart at determining when a story has danced around a subject, or avoided a subject altogether. Fiction, for a great number of people, is an easier way to digest what’s actually happening in the world.
In August Snow, you draw from a real-life corruption scandal that blew up in Detroit, stemming from former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s actions starting in 2008. It seems as though it would have been disingenuous to both the fictional story and the true Detroit to gloss over that part of the city’s recent history in Snow.
I think that’s absolutely true. My brother once said, talking about cities and towns, that things are not as good as residents say they are and they’re not as bad as the media would like you to think. The truth is always somewhere in between. Detroit has taken a lot of knocks. And a lot of that is self-imposed. I see Kwame Kilpatrick as ground zero for the necrotizing bacteria that got into the politics. His infection of the body politic and of the police administration was absolutely horrifying. I’m absolutely certain that the percentage of Detroit cops involved was extremely small. But like bacteria or a virus, something that small can become deadly.