“It can be a treacherous road, State Route 30, especially rain slick in the twilight of late winter, but I know it well. I sped along its badly banked curves faster than legal and faster than necessary. I was heading for Antonelli’s; I had plenty of time. I drove that way just for the charge, pushing the road, feeling its rhythm in my fingers, its speed in the current in my spine. Water hissed under my tires and my headlights reflected off the fat raindrops that splattered the blacktop in front of me.”
This is the first paragraph in S. J. Rozan’s strong, tight novel, Stone Quarry. Rozan has created a unique voice in crime fiction-actually, two unique voices. Each novel in the series is written from the point of view of either private detective Bill Smith, or his sometime partner, Lydia Chin. So, Stone Quarry‘s voice is Smith’s, the next title, Reflecting the Sky, is from Chin’s point of view. The alternating point of view is refreshing, and riveting essentially due to Ms. Rozan’s sparse evocative prose and splendid storytelling. The above paragraph is a good example. The reader is drawn into Bill’s world as he drives to a cabin in the woods he’s kept as a retreat for many years in upstate New York. You are in the car with him, feeling the speed, hearing the swish of rain and windshield wipers. And you want to travel with Bill to his next moment, just because of that one deceptively simple paragraph. Stone Quarry begins a journey and keeps the pace moving laced with suspense. ‘The Drood Review’ sums up Rozan’s work perfectly:
“The finest of the new crime private-eye writers, the one who brings a fresh eye and a singular approach, the one who’s unafraid of subtlety, the one who remembers to combine all the elements-character, plot, setting, description, and distinctive narrative voices-and who, most important, remembers to tell a story.”
So, what is the story? Bill Smith has a rule of never allowing work to touch his retreat in the woods, but when a neighbor in town asks him to recover some embarrassing personal items stolen from her, he agrees, and with assistance from Lydia Chin they begin the search. A local offender is found murdered in the basement of a popular bar, a young girl runs away from home, and another teenager with a troubled past has disappeared, and it falls to Smith and Chin to find the missing boy, and connect the dots to the unusual occurrences. Sounds like a simple enough plot, but in the hands of a true artist like Rozan, the simplest becomes complex and compelling.
“He must have been standing right up against the back wall when he was shot. Three dark rings with darker centers the size of a baby’s fist stained his shirt. He’d slumped down leaving a thin smear of blood on the ancient whitewash, until he settled, sagging on the dirty floor, one arm over a case of empties as though it were a friend of his. His face was a mottled gray, like candle wax and ashes,and from his slack open mouth a thin line of blood, now dry and cracking, had dripped on his chin to splash perfect circles onto his open, boney hand.
I knew those hands. After last night, the way they’d circled my throat, shaking and choking, after that I’d have known them anywhere.
He looked so foolish, so surprised, I wanted to close his eyes, his mouth, cover him with something, He was indecent, unready as the curtain went up on his final show, probably the only starring role a guy like him had ever had.”
“the size of a baby’s fist”, “mottled grey, like candle wax and ashes, ” perfect circles onto his open, boney hand.”
99 per cent of writers wished they could pound out sentences like these. The description is so precise, yet elegiac, it morphs into something else, a kind of poetry of murder.
I don’t need to sell any one on this pick for my list-if the above excerpts don’t pull you in, and send you searching for a copy, there is no help for you!
S. J. Rozan is an Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel and has been nominated and won many other awards during her career. If you’d like to learn more about her, and her work, here is her website: