In Lives Laid Away (Soho Crime, Jan.), Jones’s second August Snow mystery, ICE targets an impoverished Detroit neighborhood.
You’ve said that places can become distinct characters—how would you describe Detroit as a character?
Beaten up, bloodied, one eye nearly swollen shut, still standing in the 10th round, with the other guy’s blood and sweat dripping off his gloves. Has he hit the mat a couple times? Yeah, sure—but never for a full count. He always gets to his feet, looks at his opponent, smiles, and says, through a cracked mouth guard, “That all you got?” That’s how I’d describe Detroit. Beaten, but never beat.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Detroit?
That the city is nothing more than crumbling ruins with the characters from Mad Max running through the streets. The truth: the city is vibrant, colorful, cutting edge, and getting better every day. Yeah, there’s a lot of work yet to be done, but that’s true for any city, right? And while racial misunderstanding and animosity still exists, this is a city where diversity is real and strong, flourishing and bearing fruit.
In what way would your novels differ had they been set in other urban neighborhoods with people of mixed Mexican and African-American heritage, such as L.A.?
Different cities, different personalities and expectations. If August were born in L.A., he might have the same core values, but his expression of those values might be more reflective of L.A. than Detroit. Frankly, I think if you took Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and dropped him in the center of Detroit and simultaneously dropped August Snow in the center of L.A., both characters would end up looking around, scratching their heads and saying, “What the hell’s going on here?”
How did you name your lead?
I’d love to tell you that August Snow’s name was born of strenuous intellectual labor and a considerable investigation into the dichotomy that exists in his soul and ethnicity. But the truth is, his name came to me while I was mowing the back lawn. At one point, the words august and snow settled on my mind, and I laughingly dismissed them. Two weeks later, the words were still there, stuck like thistles to my brain. I decided I had to do either of two things: 1) seek psychological therapy or 2) write a story with those words. And since writing is therapy without the expensive co-pay, that’s the way I went. I had a basic outline of the first August Snow novel, only I didn’t have a name for the hero. In fact, in the outline, he was simply known as “hero.” And that’s how the baby got named.