Send Off for a Snitch: A Jesse Damon Novel. K.M. Rockwood. MusaPublishing.com 2013. 238 pages. e-book ISBN: 978-1-61937-783-7. For paperback, send email inquiry. Cost: $10 (includes postage) to KMRockwood@comcast.net
Brothers in Crime: A Jesse Damon Novel. 2014. ISBN: 978-1-62713-039-4, 247 pages.
I have become addicted to K.M. Rockwood’s Jesse Damon novels and all the characters, whether cruel or helpful, who populate these pages. Jesse’s life on parole seems to move one step forward only to be shoved two steps back.
In Send Off for a Snitch, the fourth novel in the Jesse Damon series, he now has union status, and he has not so far violated his parole, though suspense keeps building because one way or another he always ends up in circumstances that make him look guilty. One of the characters who has consistently pestered him, trying to buy drugs, is Aaron Stenski. Jesse is sure that Aaron is kept on at Quality Steel Fabrications because he’s a snitch to the police.
When Jesse arrives home from his midnight shift, in pouring rain, he finds Aaron’s younger brother waiting on the steps down to his basement apartment. Aaron has disappeared, and Benji decided to drive the truck where his brother had left him and got it stuck on the railroad tracks.
Jesse persuades Benji to come in, dry off, and have something to eat, and then they go to try to move the truck off the tracks. Jesse moves it successfully, only to have the police show up, see that he’s considered dangerous because he served twenty years for murder, and arrest him despite Benji’s pleas that Jesse was helping him. Benji is taken to Social Services.
Meantime it continues to rain, and Rothburg is flooded, the bridge goes out, and so does the power. When Jesse is finally released, his basement apartment is flooded, and soon his company shuts down. Cars are told to stay off the streets, but one lady and her two young children get stranded in their car in high water, and Jesse rescues them. His picture appears in the paper. You would think this would change people’s attitude toward Jesse, but it doesn’t do much, though Mandy, the friendly librarian, actually sees the rescue and takes him home with her to dry out and get some food and sleep. Then Aaron is found dead in Jesse’s stairwell, and there’s a BOLO out for his arrest.
In Brothers in Crime, the fifth in the series, Jesse is due to receive a $5000-reward for finding a missing jeweled cat collar, but that doesn’t keep him from being a suspect when an ATM machine is broken into The bank’s videotape shows a man who looks like Jesse, who was at work at the time, and at his workplace his bosses verify this.
Jesse agrees to stay in Mandy’s cottage to keep an eye on her big house while she’s away. The timing is good because his apartment is unlivable, but a young woman named Eileen, the niece of Mandy’s partner, Nicole, shows up with a baby. Eileen’s husband threatened to kill the baby, and Nicole had offered to help her niece, but Jesse doesn’t know how to reach them, so he lets Eileen stay with him. There was also a potassium cyanide spill at the factory that Jesse discovers when he is asked to move the huge and very dangerous containers of cyanide, and he is suspected there, too. In every book in this series (five so far), the more Jesse tries to do the right thing by other people, the more trouble he gets into.
Few of the characters seem to figure out that Jesse is a good man trying to do what is right and also to survive against the odds when the easily available information about him calls him a “potentially armed and dangerous murderer.” When pressed, he explains that his older brothers killed the drug dealer, but left him holding the bag of dope and the gun. At sixteen he was sentenced to forty years in prison.
I’ve read a lot of books all the way back to Homer as well as many mysteries, and Jesse Damon is a character to remember and be glad for his existence in books. Writers try to create memorable characters, but not many succeed like Rockwood does. Trollope’s Mrs. Proudie, the Bishop’s wife, and Mr. Slope, the Bishop’s chaplain, still live. Homer’s Odysseus, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache, Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, and many others.
Jesse Damon will continue to live, too. He’s also a new archetype in modern fiction: The prisoner on parole who does everything he can to live a good life, working hard and carefully, loving a woman and her children who let him into their lives, helping people in trouble, and solving the crimes he is accused of, and yet he has the Damocles sword of being labeled a murderer over his head, and even so, he accepts that and continues to do his best. If you have any compassionate bones in your body, this character of Jesse will get to you and he’ll live in your memory.
KM Rockwood draws on a varied background for stories, among them working as a laborer in a steel fabrication plant, operating glass melters and related equipment in a fiberglass manufacturing facility, and supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security state prison. These jobs, as well as work as a special education teacher in an alternative high school and a GED teacher in county detention facilities, provide most of the background for her novels and short stories.