We're so proud of prolific PW alum Solomon Jones, we could just burst—but not before reading his 10th book and eighth novel, the Philadelphia-based crime noir The Dead Man's Wife, which was released Tuesday.
In anticipation of his forthcoming article in next week's issue of Philadelphia Weekly, we'll be previewing Jones' latest via excerpts, beginning with this, the prologue of The Dead Man's Wife, to be followed by its first chapter, unveiled in sections through Wednesday, Oct. 24. A bonus: Here's the trailer for it too.
The memory ebbed and flowed like a river. Sometimes it was crystal clear, other times it was murky, but no matter how Tim Green’s recollection of that night ended up, it always started the same—at Kensington and Allegheny.
After hours on side streets near the Philadelphia corner known as K and A, prostitutes, addicts and dealers fought tooth and nail for survival. Tricks were turned, deals were made, and sunrise brought dead bodies. After that, the night returned and the game would start again.
Tim knew the game well. He’d played it more often than most, yet somehow, he was still alive. Like the other suburban twenty-somethings who’d come to Philly in search of heroin, Tim had discovered his own private hell, and he’d found it inside himself.
With drooping blue eyes, and brown, dusty hair, he looked like an unkempt boy, but Tim was a hardcore drug addict who would die for a vein full of dope. Once when he robbed a hooker for ten dollars, an angry pimp broke Tim’s jaw. Another time, a dealer shot him in the leg for stealing five bags from his stash. A year before, he’d contracted a virus through the point of the wrong shared needle, but despite everything he’d been through for heroin, Tim had managed to survive.
By the time he reached that chaotic evening in June 2008, however, survival wasn’t enough anymore. After two years of watching women turn tricks under the El tracks, and men turn to zombies under the influence, Tim didn’t care if he lived or died. He just wanted to fill his needle.
The night began with Tim doing the same thing he did every evening—sitting on the steps of a boarded up house and watching the avenue move. This night was different, though. He saw more than the usual preening prostitutes and dead-eyed addicts. He saw opportunity.
As he scratched his face absently and pretended to nod, his eyes were fixed on a man across the street. That man didn’t belong at K and A. Tim knew that, so he waited for him to walk inside a bar. Then Tim got up and crossed the avenue, hoping he would somehow get ten dollars for another bag of dope.
The bar was dark when Tim walked in, so he waited for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he saw scantily clad women, and a bartender with one hand beneath the counter. He saw patrons who rarely left their bar stools. Then he looked at the man he’d followed inside, and Tim knew he’d made a mistake.
The man was six feet two and husky, with a plain black suit, a square jaw and a hard stare. His hair was close cropped and squared off above the collar. In a room full of criminals he was watchful, but not afraid, all of which could mean only one thing. The guy was a cop. Tim could see that now, and while he didn’t know Officer Jon Harris’s name at that moment, the name would come to dominate what was left of Tim’s life.
“Drinks on me!” Officer Harris shouted while tossing a stack of bills onto the bar.
Two women plopped down on Harris’s lap. He pawed them and lit a cigar, and as liquor flowed and people laughed, nearly every eye watched Jon Harris. Then Tim noticed a bar maid whose attention was elsewhere, and he knew something wasn’t quite right.
When Tim turned around to see what she was watching, a thin man walked quickly past him. With one hand, he was pulling a mask over his face. With the other, he was pulling a gun.
With eyes stretched wide, the bartender tried to grab his shotgun from beneath the bar, but the gunman shot him in the head. As blood spattered and chaos erupted, the bar maid screamed. Customers hit the floor. Officer Harris tried to turn while pulling his gun. Then a bullet tore into his midsection.
In the first excerpt of Chapter One of Jones' eighth novel, a former figure in Detective Mike Coletti's past makes some interesting moves—in and out of the courtroom.
Newshounds-turned-novelists Solomon Jones and Karen Quinones Miller encompass the light and darkness of life in the city. Days before their joint book-signing and reading at the Free Library on Nov. 1, Miller and Jones sat down to talk to each other about their lives, their books and the amazing journeys that shaped two of Philadelphia’s most distinctive storytelling voices.
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014