BOOK NOOK: Don’t miss this debut novel by a rising crime fiction star

As the novel “Smoke Kings” opens the year is 2017 and a Black youth named Darius has been attacked and just died. His brother, Joshua is at the hospital, feeling distraught. A cousin, Nate Evers, is there too, utterly enraged. Their friends Rachel and Isiah, are also present, both consumed by grief.

On that day, at 2:37 in the morning, Nate Evers was plotting revenge. Next we move forward a couple of years to a swamp down south. Nate, Joshua, Isiah, and Rachel are together again and they have a captive. After Darius was killed Nate spent his time deciding how to exact retribution for racist killings.

Nate researched the history of lynching in this country and recruited the other three to assist him in punishing some descendants of long dead perpetrators of those crimes. The man they were holding captive in the swamp is the grandson of a fellow who once forced a Black man to leap off a high bridge to his death.

Mayfield writes: “the injustice in Darius’s murder was the reason they’d all committed to do this work. His death wouldn’t be in vain.” Of course as readers we are wondering, what happens next? Well, they don’t kill the people they are abducting. Instead, they demand that they pay reparations for the sins of their ancestors.

Before they release their prisoners they arrange to receive regular payments deposited through untraceable financial systems Nate devised. That money is redistributed to descendants of victims of racist killings.

The author switches back and forth between the activities of these vigilantes and an investigation being conducted by Mason Farmer, a retired policeman from Alabama, who has been hired to track down these mysterious parties who are abducting influential citizens, like their captive in the swamp, and extorting money from them.

Farmer has issues of his own and his own agenda. As the story progresses he goes rogue and gets himself into gnarly situations that force him to confront his own prejudices. Meanwhile, Nate and his collaborators have finally gone too far and murdered one of their abductees.

That’s when this tense thriller really opens up and begins running full bore. Chipper, the man who died, has a brother, Samuel, a white supremacist, who is one of the scariest bad guys this reviewer has encountered in the world of crime fiction. Samuel is enormous and highly intelligent.

Samuel’s got a cult-like gang living in trailers at a compound out in the middle of nowhere. As this gut-clenching story concludes there is an incendiary convergence that will leave readers gasping. And that isn’t all, Mayfield closes the book with an ending that had such a twist I had to double check to make sure I hadn’t put on my underwear backwards. This book is that good.

“Smoke Kings” is this author’s debut. Mayfield writes with sustained brilliance and an eloquent confidence. For him, this gets personal, Mayfield had a close relative who was killed in yet another all too common racist homicide.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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