Aric Davis, Rough Men (Thomas and Mercer, 2012)
Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.
The sub-200-page novel is an interesting concept in today’s culture, at least in America; it had lost its luster for a number of years as the 300-page novel became the standard in the same way the two-hour movie did in Hollywood. But the eighties brought a renaissance in doorstop-sized tomes, those things that in decades past would have been released in two (or three or four or…) volumes simultaneously because they were so unwieldy. It stood to reason that eventually the wind would shift the other way, and sure enough, it did. Hard Case Crime specializes in this sort of thing, and they do it very well. Now Thomas and Mercer, Amazon Publishing’s mystery/thriller arm, seem to be taking up the mantle as well, and one of the first fruits is Rough Men, the third novel by Grand Rapids, Michigan author Aric Davis. I’m not sure it works as well as the best offerings from Hard Case, but it does what it sets out to do, and it does it well enough that you’ll enjoy the ride.
Plot: Will Daniels is not a rough man at the start of Davis’ novel; he is a mildly successful writer, an ex-barfly who has two major cares in the world. One is that he’s suffering from writer’s block, and he hasn’t told his Seattle publisher yet. The other is his twenty-four-year-old son Alex, who wants very much to be a rough man. During his last stint in the lockup, he hooked up with some very bad dudes, who have taken him on a bank robbery as the novel opens. Three days later, a police detective appears on Will’s doorstep with the news that Alex has been killed. Will wants to know why, and so, with the help of his estranged brother Isaac and an old associate of theirs from high school who is a rough man, he starts picking away at the life and death of his son.
On one hand, the brevity of this novel keeps the focus on one thing, and one thing only: the mystery. When it comes to genre novels, that is a very good thing indeed, and deviations from the storyline tend to derail such novels. On the other hand, here, it seems like it may have been a detriment. Davis has created a trio of main characters who are interesting, given them shady and unreliable pasts, and then set them loose in this storyline. I wanted to know more about these guys. I think that twenty, thirty, fifty more pages of character development and backstory would have worked just fine here. In short: a good novel, and a satisfying one, but I think that given a little latitude, it might have been a better one. ***