OUR OTHER TWO FEATURED BOOKS, “CONVERT THIS,” BY D.W. FINTON AND “DEAD IN A DITCH,” BY HEATHER OSTING, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.
PUBLISHED IN: 2014
THE AUTHOR: Rick Skwiot
THE PUBLISHER: Blank Slate Press, a division of Amphorae Publishing Group
SUMMARY: Disgraced African-American St. Louis Police Lieutenant Carlo Gabriel wants fiercely to return to the headquarters hierarchy from which he has been exiled to the city’s tough North Side. All he needs do is track down the missing husband of the mayor’s vivacious press secretary. Instead he unwittingly and unwillingly unearths a morass of corruption, educational malpractice and greed that consigns thousands of at-risk youths to the mean streets of America’s erstwhile murder capital. Worse, it’s the kind of information that could get a cop killed.
Fighting for life and his honor, Gabriel makes chilling discoveries that ultimately lead to a life-threatening and life-changing decision—a choice that could affect not only his own future but also that of the city and its top leaders.
THE BACK STORY: Fail takes place in St. Louis, but the necessary story elements could be found in most any American city: dysfunctional families and schools, rampant crime and governmental corruption, adultery and murder. And some teachers and cops trying to do the right thing against all odds.
My own awakening to one these elements—failing inner city schools—came some 20 years ago when I agreed to teach a remedial grammar course at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. I had recently been teaching composition at Mizzou, which was a grind, and figured this would be easier—shorter papers to grade. Wrong. The class contained 18 ambitious young African-American students trying to better themselves but who had not tested well enough to get into regular first-year comp. All had graduated from St. Louis high schools yet none could consistently write grammatically correct sentences or speak grammatical Standard English. Problems included lack of verb-noun agreement, missing verbs and poor spelling—stuff they should have gotten in first and second grade but for some reason hadn’t gotten it even by 12th grade.
I wondered: How could this happen—this educational malpractice? After some years conducting research and writing Fail, I have an idea what’s gone wrong—and the causes are many. As to fixing it… That’s not so easy given entrenched bureaucracies and failed public policies, as well as broad social and cultural ills.
Other dubious elements put to dramatic use in the book are public knowledge: random violence on the streets, enmity between cops and young black men, gang activity; on the political front, an illegal campaign finance scheme to which a recent Missouri governor pled guilty, a towing company racket that brought down the St. Louis Chief of Police and no-show employees on the city payroll. Plus the ghost education given many college athletes, which has been documented at numerous institutions. Ditto for the adulterous escapades of top elected officials—mayors, congressmen, presidents et cetera.
Fiction is built on human problems, conflict and misbehavior. Having so much ready material at hand makes the fiction writer’s job easier. Not necessarily more pleasant, but easier. It would be hard to make all this up.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Fail portrays the failure of inner city schools and other institutions that are victimizing so many young people.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?: Readers say they love Fail’s major protagonist, a tough, wisecracking Mexican- and African-American cop, Lt. Carlo Gabriel, who has been exiled to the city’s unruly North Side for beating a prisoner who had killed one of his men. Divorced, 54, a former basketball player for Saint Louis University and a lapsed Catholic, he gets called in on a missing person case by his former partner Angelo Cira, now the mayor, with a chance to redeem himself.
I like Carlo, too, because he is human, that is, a man with weaknesses: somewhat corruptible, a sensualist, always on a diet. In fact, at one time or another in the novel he practices all the Seven Deadly Sins—wrath, greed, lust, pride, sloth, envy, and gluttony. Also, he is somewhat of a mystery himself, hard to figure, and the reader can’t be sure on what side of the law—and right and wrong—he will land until the end.
“St. Louis noir…The slick prose readily entertains…Well-executed.” — Kirkus Reviews
“The plot is intriguing — dirty dealings at City Hall, corruption in government and a super-smart cop who has gotten on the bad side of the bigwigs…an enjoyable read with such a St. Louis feel…” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“…not to be missed…a compelling crime novel in the cool and crisp language.” –Qiu Xiaolong, author of Enigma of China: An Inspector Chen Novel
AUTHOR PROFILE: Former journalist Rick Skwiot is the author of three previous novels—the Hemingway First Novel Award winner Death in Mexico, the Willa Cather Fiction Prize finalist Sleeping With Pancho Villa, and Key West Story—as well as two memoirs: the critically-acclaimed Christmas at Long Lake: A Childhood Memory and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Memoir of a Sensual Quest for Spiritual Healing. He also works as a feature writer, book doctor and editor. From St. Louis, he currently resides in Key West.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “Coincidentally, certain elements in Fail mirror the August 2014 shooting of a black suspect by a white cop in suburban Ferguson, Missouri, which occurred just as Fail was going into print. Luckily, this was an isolated incident. But the culture of violence, gunplay and institutional failure that often contribute to street tragedies are front and center in Fail. When I sat down to write the novel, I wanted to craft a page-turning mystery that dramatized the sorry state of our inner cities and in particular the failure of our schools there.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: You can read a sample chapter at http://blankslatepress.com/authors/rick-skwiot/.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Fail is available at all major online booksellers in both paperback and ebook versions.
PRICE: Kindle version $6.99, Nook $8.99; paperback $14.95