When Augy (short for Augustinius of all things) Smalls hits Katya Tyler with his car late one night on an empty stretch of road, it catapults the out of work private eye straight into a breakneck noir of the best kind. There are dames, several of them, a hardnosed, down on his luck detective with the tenacity of a bulldog, cigarettes smoked by the dozen, dark plots that go straight to the top, and Nazis—because all good, post-war noirs need Nazis.
Smalls and Tyler are both broken in their own ways, devastated by the events of WWII and haunted by what it has done to their lives, minds, and bodies, together they’ll cut a swath of vengeance a mile wide through the rotten heart of 1954 Los Angeles.
The crimes are horrifying, the injuries are numerous and soldiered through, the dames are treacherous (and one even has a dangerous accent to boot), the gin is drunk by the bucketful, the car chases are gripping, the shootouts plentiful, and there are twists, double crosses, fisticuffs, and backstabs to beat the band.
Honestly, only thing missing is trouble in a red dress strutting into Augy’s office late one lonely night, and likely the only reason that doesn’t happen is because we meet Augy after he’s already hit rock bottom—that is, he doesn’t have an office for her to strut into.
Instead, trouble meets him on the street.
Laya V. Smith’s debut novel is a must read for anyone with a Humphry Bogart shaped itch that needs scratching. A Humphry Bogart shaped itch with some updated gender and racial politics because, let’s be honest, some of those classics are pretty rough on that front.
The Lumbermill uses several staples of the genre, clichés would be the unkind way to phrase it, but Smith’s writing oozes enough atmosphere and charisma that it’s hard to be annoyed when something’s rotten in Chinatown, because again, all good noir thrillers need a Chinatown interlude, just like they need Nazis and dames and chain smoking.
Brilliant for longtime lovers of the genre, easy to enjoy for those just getting into it, Smith’s Lumbermill is a brick of a book, easy pick up, and hard to put down once you crack the cover.
5/5- Will read again!