Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: 'Not for Nothing" by Stephen Graham Jones

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

Nick Bruiseman is a disgraced former police detective and private investigator forced out of his job—and the town of Midland, Texas—after an investigation goes more than a little awry. He returns to his small hometown of Stanton, Texas, where he hopes to drink the rest of his days away, days he's spending working for and living at Aardvark Custom Economy Storage. ("Free room, free board, so long as nobody complains about me taking liberties with their stuff."

He's hoping for anonymity, a life where he doesn't have to handle anything more complicated than picking up chopped beef sandwiches from the nearby water station and letting his old friend' son and his band practice in one of the vacant storage units. But one day in walks Gwen Tracy, former high school cheerleader and homecoming queen, over whom Nick was rather obsessed back in the day (their encounter in his truck one night during senior year didn't help his obsession any). She wants to hire Nick as a private investigator, because she says she is being threatened and stalked by an ex-convict she met while tutoring at a prison.

Shortly after Gwen leaves the storage company, Nick gets a visit from another old friend, Rory Gates. Rory was the star football player to Gwen's cheerleader, the homecoming king to her queen. Nick and Rory used to be friends despite their competition over Gwen. Now Rory wants to use Nick's services to spy on his wife, whom he believes is having an affair. He's not interested in taking no for an answer. The catch of course, is that Rory is now married to Gwen, so Nick has, in a short amount of time, been hired by both husband and wife.

Then someone gets murdered, and Nick is suspected of the crime, which brings him into contact with a shady attorney that owes him a favor. As Nick desperately tries to clear his name and prove what really happens, he finds himself in unending trouble and in the crosshairs of a number of people, including a sheriff sure that all roads lead to his guilt, and a pool shark with a violent streak to whom Nick has owed money for quite some time. And of course, the judge who banned him from Midland pops up, too.

I really enjoyed this book a great deal, and thought Nick was a pretty terrific character. He makes no bones about his flaws and he doesn't care what people think about him (most people, at least); he just wants to live the rest of his failed life in an alcoholic stupor. But he cannot turn off his detective instincts and his need to try and both clear his own name and figure out what's really happening.

Stephen Graham Jones has created a memorable group of characters which seem familiar but are more complex than you first think. It's a plot full of twists and turns, and I like how it kept me guessing. If I have any criticism, it's that there were perhaps too twists—as the story neared its conclusion, I had to re-read a bit just to be clear on what exactly happened and who was really involved. But in the end, Nick Bruiseman and the folks in Stanton, Texas were fun to spend some time with, and I hope Jones takes us back on another journey to Stanton sometime soon.

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