FAIL reviews

You can read Rick Boettger’s thoughtful review of FAIL in Key West’s Blue Paper here.

Also, following is novelist Rosalind Brackenbury’s perceptive review of my novel, published in Konk Life:

“When I attended the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar on “The Dark Side”, I learned some things about writers of crime fiction. They know how to do plots and they are good at endings. Also, they aren’t gloomy as people – far from it, they seem rather cheerful. Perhaps it’s because they know that what they are doing succeeds. Rick Skwiot’s crime novel, “Fail”, set in St. Louis, Missouri, falls squarely into the genre, with its mean streets, its corrupt bosses and its flawed, only-too-human detective.

“But he’s hit several very contemporary nails on their heads, too. The victim here is not a corpse – although one washes up in the great Mississippi – but a system of education that lets down inner city kids and sends them, most of them African-Americans, out into the wide world unarmed, at least by learning.

“His likeable cop, a demoted lieutenant who has made some mistakes in his past, is Carlo Gabriel – black, divorced, not entirely cynical, a lapsed but not totally lapsed Catholic, a snappy dresser with an eye for women and a taste for bourbon. (Do demoted cops in St. Louis earn salaries that allow for cashmere overcoats and Ferragamo loafers, I wondered?) He’s set here between a corrupt mayor with Mob connections and an idealistic white college professor who has lost his job and his wife and may be heading for the morgue on account of what he knows. Gabriel walks an uneasy line between the two, but helped by a Jesuit priest, Saint Anthony, patron of lost people and things, the ghost of Mark Twain and some fairly smart women, comes out on the right side even if he hasn’t changed the system. Stone, the professor, hasn’t changed the system either – but who knows, things may improve incrementally – and he has become a little less squeaky-clean and wide-eyed in the process of staying alive.

“Skwiot has a good ear for dialogue and an appropriately noir sense of humor, and the action cracks along at a satisfying rate. “Fail”, with its literary allusions, hints of Catholic morality as well as Machiavellian game-playing, its sense of place – Skwiot grew up in St. Louis, and the action takes place not far from Ferguson, a place we have all, unfortunately, heard of by now – was a page-turner even for this non-reader of detective fiction. What we look for on the page, whatever the genre, is surely intelligence. This short novel has it in quantities. Rick Skwiot has found his niche in among the best of American crime writers.”


“Fail” cited in year’s favorite books in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

UnknownThanks to Robin Theiss of STL Books & Gifts for her recommendation in Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch story on the year’s favorite books:

“Fail” by Rick Skwiot (fiction) • This novel has also been in high demand, possibly spurred by the situation in Ferguson. Skwiot shows off his versatility with this thriller, the story of a disgraced African-American police lieutenant who, while trying to redeem himself, lands in a life-threatening hotbed of corruption.

You can read the entire article here.

By the way, I will be doing a reading at STL Books on Thursday, January 22.




Inspector Chen creator Qiu Xiaolong praises the mystery FAIL

WU-Alum-Qiu-Xiaolong-authorQiu Xiaolong, author, most recently, of Enigma of China: An Inspector Chen Novel and ten other fiction and poetry books, recently read and praised my new St. Louis-based mystery novel Fail:

“A page-turner not to be missed in any circumstances, an eye-and-mind-opener to be held against the backdrop of Ferguson tragedy, Rick Skwiot’s Fail is a compelling crime novel in the cool and crisp language, but also much more than that with convincing insight into the cultural and political problems prevalent in today’s American society.”

Likewise, I am a fan of his work, and was particularly taken with his linked short story collection Years of Red Dust (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). His Shanghai Inspector Chen Cao mysteries show the long shadow that Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution—which rent Qiu’s family—still casts over contemporary China.

I first became acquainted with Qiu and his work two years ago when I interviewed him in St. Louis, where he now lives, for an article in Washington magazine. I spent a chill October morning sipping green tea with Qiu in his living room while he told me of his first published writing, which I described thus:

“In 1966, at age 13, Qiu was forced to write the confession for his capitalist father, who was in the hospital recovering from eye surgery, and then to stand by him at his public humiliation as it was read aloud.

“‘My father had to be mass criticized, to stand on stage as a target, where people denounced him and chanted slogans for hours,’ Qiu says.”

You can read the entire article here: China’s Punitive Past Colors Writer & Work.


No surprise: My hometown, St. Louis, ranks among the world’s 50 most violent cities.

45-st-louis-had-3414-homicides-per-100000-residentsIt hardly surprises me to see my hometown—erstwhile U.S. murder capital St. Louis, Missouri—make the top 50 of the world’s most violent cities, a list compiled by Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. We’re # 45! With 34.14 homicides per 100,000 residents, St. Louis ranks ahead, so to speak, of Tijuana, Mexico, #47; Durban, South Africa, #48; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, #49, putting us in some pretty select company. In the U.S.A. we were beat out only by Baltimore at #36, New Orleans at #26 and Detroit at #24. A total of 34 of the 50 most violent cities are in Latin America. (However, we seldom hear via American media of the complicity of U.S. recreational drug users in any of this violence—much of it drug-gang-related—north or south of the border, but that’s another topic.)

I’ve been keenly aware of St. Louis’s violent side for some time. Much of my evidence has been anecdotal but nonetheless, to me, impressive. Over the years I’ve had two friends shot by strangers, another bludgeoned with a sawed-off shotgun in front of her Central West End home, yet another woman raped and severely beaten, and a close friend raped, sodomized and fatally stabbed in her Lafayette Square townhouse where I used to visit. In addition I’ve had friends who have been victims of armed robberies, muggings, car thefts and more, including a neighbor who was stabbed in front of the high-rise on Forest Park where I lived. Just recently a friend, recovering from serious surgery, stepped out on the street for the first time since coming home from the hospital only to fall victim to the “knockout game” in front of his Lindell Boulevard apartment building. Further, I’ve had some close calls on the street myself but was alert enough and lucky enough not to have been hurt. And it’s not like I was ever in the gang life or ran with a rough crowd, unless you consider writers and bureaucrats rough trade.

My acquaintanceship with St. Louis crime led me in part to pen my newly released novel, Fail—that and the failure of its disaccredited public schools, from which half its students drop out to populate the streets with underprepared, discouraged, vulnerable and often angry youths. The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, a ten-minute drive from my teenage St. Louis home, have focused attention on urban ills located not just in St. Louis but in most cities. Nowadays 70 percent of state prison inmates across the U.S. are high school dropouts. As the epigraph of Fail, taken from Mark Twain, states: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.”

The failing schools–coupled with failing families–are at the core of our urban violence and dysfunction, I believe. but others may have other opinions as to what’s so askew in our cities.



St. Louis Magazine interview marks launch of my new mystery novel “Fail”

photo-6 copyThis week marks the launch by Blank Slate Press of my new St. Louis-based mystery Fail, whose events coincidentally mirror those taking place there recently–the shooting of a unarmed black man by a white cop, educational failure, thousands of disaffected youth on the streets. St. Louis Magazine‘s November edition, which focuses on race issues in St. Louis, features an interview with me on Fail and my take on the city. You can read it here. A shorter version appears in the print edition.

Fail is now available in print and ebook versions at, Barnes& and other online booksellers. For those of you in the St. Louis area, you can find it at  Left Bank Books, Main Street Books, Rose’s Bookhouse, STL Books, Subterranean Books and The Bookhouse.

Also, I will be doing book signings with other Blank Slate Press authors next week: Tuesday, November 4, at The Bookhouse, 7352 Manchester in Maplewood, 7 pm onward; and Saturday, November 8, 1 to 3 pm, at STL Books, 100 W. Jefferson in Kirkwood.



Fact mirrors fiction in St. Louis

Coincidentally and sadly, what’s going on these days in Ferguson, Missouri, mirrors some of the events of my forthcoming St. Louis mystery, Fail, including the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white cop. The book also deals with political corruption and educational malpractice that puts thousands of miseducated teen dropouts on the streets each year–not exclusive to my hometown.

FYI, below is a link to my publisher’s page for the novel, slated for an October 27 launch in St. Louis. You’ll find a précis and an excerpt if you scroll down…