RARA-AVIS: The Jones Men

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 01 Jun 2000

I recently read THE JONES MEN by Vern E. Smith that was republished by Norton's "Old School Books" series in 1998. Back in 1974, it was nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar. The setting is the bleak drug culture of the Detroit ghetto of the early 70s. I like the opening line:

"For Bennie Lee Sims' wake, Lennie Jack chose the sky-blue Fleetwood with the chromed-up bumpers and the bar-line running from the trunk to the dash, dispensing six different liquors with chaser."

Vern E. Smith knew this world well as a journalist and it shows on every page. The action is quite fast, at times almost too fast to follow. There are some wonderfully drawn characters, many great scenes, and a finely-detailed portrait of a time and place as hard and dangerous as anything in noir fiction.

I had some trouble getting into the book as the characters flew by so fast in their introduction it was difficult for me to keep them straight. Another problem I had was that there were no characters I really cared about or felt personal involvement with in the novel. I recognize this old-fashioned prejudice may not bother some readers but it did somewhat limit my enjoyment of a novel that was impressive in many ways.

THE JONES MEN was a great debut but was never followed by a second. The intro to this addition said Smith had concentrated on his career at Newsweek and only recently had begun a second novel. If it ever appears I will certainly buy it.

Richard Moore

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