Of all the crime fiction writers I hang out with, Jonathan Woods is the one I’m most likely to get into trouble with. We’ve lurked San Fransisco streets for a hidden party, he was on on my infamous Sex, Violence, and Bad Language Bouchercon panel, and we’ve found ourselves at a bar many times with Jonathan saying quotable things I can’t always quote in public. When we decided to do Noir At The Bar here in Austin, he was the first person I thought of inviting. With two published books, Jonathan Woods has proven to be a fearless author who’s writing skill is only matched its audacity.
Jonathan started writing at the age of sixty, giving up a successful law career to do so. Much of his early work was in online magazines like Plots With Guns. He developed a style that was sharp, tight, many times funny, often outrageous, and always unique.
New Pulp Press collected many of his stories with some new work in Bad JuJu. The mix of gonzo pulp with touches of weird horror hit many of us crime fiction aficionados like a shot of Patron. Stories ranged from those about sexy, hard boiled heroines, a jab at the superhero genre, to a haunting erotic ghost story. No Way Jose, a standout that caps off the anthology, is a wild, violent, hilarious series of events that culminate skillfully and swiftly. The writing is intelligent, fast, fun, and has no fear. Jonathan once described his writing as lowering a bucket into his brain. “….and this is what I pull up.”
God knows what that man dreams at night.
Being known for his short work, I wondered how Jonathan would handle the demands of his first novel, A Death In Mexico. He more than delivers with Inspector Diaz, a rumpled police detective whose cynicism has overwhelmed but not conquered his romanticism. He frequently indulges his vices, has interesting conversations with the local priest, and is quite dogged on a case. In a city where the cartels control everything, for Diaz justice is more personal than institutional.
Diaz’s investigation concerns an American art model. Many of the suspects are U.S. expats and painters, all with their personal depravity. Diaz finds himself brushing up against them and the cartels, jumping across the border, getting roughed up, doing some of his own roughing up, getting involved in some insane car chases, flirting with his partner, and delivering many a sharp observation. I rooted for his triumph, not only because I was personally connected, but because I wanted to read about him again.
Jonathan Woods has quickly become an author to be respected. A couple of years ago, we both had a great meal with booksellers and authors after one of Murder By The Book’s famed noir nights. As we walked back to our cars, Jonathan put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Much better than being a lawyer.”
Speaking as a friend and a fan, I glad he made the change, too.
Jonathan Woods, along with Peter Farris, Barry Graham, and Jesse Sublett, will read from his work at Austin’s Noir at the Bar, held at Opal Divine’s on Thursday, June 7, 7p.