The glorious lack of success in almost any bad situation can be summed up in a single syllable—fail. However, FAIL, a recently released detective mystery novel by award winning author Rick Skwiot (Blank Slate Press, St. Louis, Missouri, Oct. 2014), is a glorious success that receives my highest recommendation—a real page-turner.
Skwiot’s writing, working meticulously like a treacherous black widow spider, pulled me craftily into the mean streets of St. Louis, Missouri, an otherworldly chasm of urban decay and corruption. Weaving tough subjects—criminal justice, inner city schools, racism, educational malpractice, and politics—into a dark web of irregular, tangled, sticky silken fibers, Skwiot’s story rushes over to bite you and wrap you in its silk before you can extricate yourself. This book more than entertains. It makes you think, a lot.
What’s to like?
All great mysteries—at least the kind I love to read—are character driven. Skwiot does not disappoint. “Half-rican” St. Louis Police Department Lieutenant Carlo Gabriel—Mexican mother and African-American father—is an unusual man of street-earned smarts, attitude and strength, yet educated and deliciously refined. He’s been exiled from downtown headquarters to an outlying North St. Louis precinct after “ringing up long distance” on a suspect who shot and killed one of his officers.
(Another key plot element is the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white cop. If this sounds vaguely familiar, strangely, Skwiot, a St. Louis native, seems to have anticipated the recent tragic events in St. Louis with the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, which occurred as the book went to press. In a prescient twist, his book addresses the issues that have focused worldwide attention on what went wrong. Unwittingly, or not, through the characters and settings in his book he sheds insight as to how it could be fixed…)
Gabriel’s personal mission: to get back downtown. Although he is willing to do so at (almost) any cost, when the Mayor asks him to track down a mild-mannered, 34-year old English professor who has gone missing—the husband of his (hot) press secretary with whom he (the Mayor) may be having an affair—Lt. Gabriel unintentionally finds himself in a morass of public and educational corruption that tests his resolve. The result is a thrilling and dangerous passage. I love that!
Other characters I particularly liked include the detective’s computer geek, The Gecko—savvy yet quirky—and the mysterious Catholic priest who seems to hold all the answers, or not. There’s also a cast of characters from the Mayor’s office and the local university, which Skwiot nails.
Clever and authentic.
In full disclosure, I’m personally acquainted with the author and he gave me an advance reader copy to review. Having read most of Skwiot’s other published works, I expected FAIL to succeed in pleasing. And honestly, previous bias aside, I give it an A++. Although the theme of this book is at times troubling, it is enlightening, and yes, a tad sexy—as all of his past works have proven to be. Most of all it is clever, authentic and packs a lot into an enjoyable read.
The book’s epigraph is apropos:
“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.” – Mark Twain
I really loved this book. I highly recommend this book to my readers. (Link here for a brief PDF excerpt.) I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. A good read for younger readers, too. Despite the sometimes-vulgar language and situations, it portrays a slice of life—the reality of urban settings—that many young readers don’t have access to and thus “fail” to understand the politically charged environment that is impacting the lives of their peers. In many cases, peers that don’t get a chance to compete.
FAIL by Rick Skwiot is available in trade paperback and eBook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in many cases, your local bookstore.
Other reviewers are saying….
“St. Louis noir…The slick prose readily entertains…Well-executed.”–Kirkus Reviews
“Hardboiled and hard-hitting, Skwiot’s Fail delivers a gritty knockout crime story you won’t soon forget.”–Brian Wiprud, author of The Clause (Ed. Note: One of my fav authors and you should def check out his books. Start at the beginning…)
“This tale is a trenchant reminder that the urban cocktail of poverty in the face of wealth, St. Louis’s famous segregated sprawl—with Metro St. Louis’s numerous (60 or more) independent-minded police departments—and corruption in high places nationwide, is an explosive mix.” –Peter Green, Author, Blogger.
“Art imitates life in this prescient novel. Both crime fiction and a clarion call to rescue America’s underserved schools, Fail is also proof positive that the Ferguson, Missouri, uprising was inevitable.”–Terry Baker Mulligan, author of Afterlife in Harlem
“Not all the snow that blankets St. Louis city in Fail can begin to whitewash its political corruption and educational malpractice, but through all the darkness hope for change emerges. A cynical detective ventures far outside his comfort zone, risking everything to keep an idealistic teacher alive long enough to expose ugly truths. A microcosm for what ails society, Fail is an intelligent read that refuses to pass the buck, earning a classy A.”–Scott L. Miller, author of Counterfeit and Interrogation
“Fail is a riveting spellbinding tale with intricate characters that are depicted through carefully crafted imagery of iconic St. Louis landmarks bolstered by lucid vernacular accuracy reflecting the rich cultural diversity of the city.” –John Baugh, author of Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic Pride and Racial Prejudice and former director African and African American Studies, Washington University in St. Louis
“Chicago has Scott Turow, Boston Dennis Lehane, LA James Elroy. Finally St. Louis has its laureate of fiction, Rick Skwiot. His new novel, Fail, is a sheer success. Skwiot hits for the fences and stylishly touches all the bases — money, municipal politics, police corruption, infidelity, suicide, homicide, all rendered in crackling prose.”
–Michael Mewshaw author of Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal