Not for Nothing by Stephen Graham Jones

County of Offenses

Martin

Character Charges

Murder, GTA, B&E, Larceny, Blackmail, Assault, Disturbing the Peace at a Funeral, Driving without Insurance

Known Gang Affiliations

Dzanc Books

Date of Offense

March 18, 2014

Arresting Officer

William Dylan Powell 

This isn't a new book, but it's a book that I always enjoyed. And I simply don't understand its mixed reviews following the 2014 release, so I thought I would feature it on the LSL to share what I liked about it--and what you might enjoy too if you haven’t read it.

In my mind, Not for Nothing is a classic noir detective story. The boldly-named Nicholas Bruiseman was once a homicide detective in Midland, Texas. Kicked off of the force controversially, Nick moves back to his hometown of Stanton, Texas, taking a job as the live-in security guard at Aardvark Custom Economy Storage.

And he's not moving back in the way that many people move back to their hometowns—licking their wounds around people who support them. He's moving back a bit of a pariah, after failing from the force and having a less-than-stellar rep back home as it is.

While kinda-sort-of faithfully serving as Aardvark Custom Economy Storage's head of security, Nick is confronted by his high-school sweetheart, Gwen. The former cheerleader and Prom Queen, who married the Prom King, Rory, she offers to hire Nick as an unlicensed investigator to help her get rid of a stalker.

At the same time, Gwen's husband, Rory, who’s every bit the bully he was back in school, hires Nick to follow Gwen because he thinks she's seeing someone else. Throw in a bit of unresolved gambling debt from back in Midland, an alcoholic father and an overall greater-than-most propensity to get into trouble, and Nick Bruiseman isn't likely to find much comfort back home.

There are a few things I thought were interesting about this book.

One is that it's written in the second person, which is really different for a noir mystery. In my mind, what that does is invest you in the underdog, down-and-out nature of the main character. I also thought it was a well engineered mystery from a fair play standpoint. And I appreciated the way Jones used established noir and detective conventions but managed to keep it relatable and engaging.

And then there's a sense of place. Much like A.C. Doyle or James Lee Burke, Jones does an excellent job of establishing Stanton as a character in its own right. If you haven't been to Stanton, it's one of those West Texas towns with huge sunsets and tiny phone books. "Population 3,000 friendly people and a few old soreheads," as the sign says.

We're talking 2A football and everybody knows everybody's businesses. Not for Nothing is stuffed full of authenticity from within West Texas towns like this, including the Town & Country store, farm sales, ranching culture, cropdusting and the ubiquitous expensive white Ford diesel truck. And, of course, the relentless heat (hey, it’s a dry heat).

Most readers have that shortlist of authors they almost automatically buy and read, without needing to hear much about the actual book. For me, this was the book that put Jones on my radar as a one of those personal short-list reads—even though it’s not the first work most people consider when they think about this prolific author who’s written more than 20 books.

And I like that Jones is a slippery fish—one of those authors who doesn’t quite fit into an easy category of genus and species. He flits between stories featuring horror, crime, romance, sci-fi, experimental and more with disturbing ease. You never really know where Stephen Graham Jones is going next in his work; but you know it's going to be good.

Verdict: Guilty of creating an authentic West Texas noir, set in a small town but with big-time grit.

 
 
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