A.F. Carter’s The Yards: A Novel of Suspense is an excellent example of neo noir. Following the lives of a number of figures in a failing town named Baxter, the death of a junkie leads them to intersect as the story twists steadily towards a disturbing and fascinating climax.
The point of view characters, with chapters titled after them, are Delia, Git, and Connor. The first two are loving single mothers in professions that are often seen as serving others (Delia a police lieutenant and Git a nurse), while the third is the son of an abusive gangster and a member of his organization. On the other hand Delia has a strong relationship with her parents, while Git is in a much more complicated situation with her mother, and Connor shows outright hatred for his father. Two are heterosexual, the other an out if discrete homosexual individual. All are no strangers to horrible acts and corrupt organizations, albeit in somewhat different contexts.
The mystery relates back to drug use and money, as well as the general status of the local organization profiting from these things. It has a number of suspects, introduced through the plot and from the points of view of different leads. There are a number of points where a figure comes into light enough that the reader expects them to be truly important later, but which ones do and don’t are not easily determined while reading. Police corruption, particularly in small towns, comes up frequently. Delia has one coworker she hates and distrusts, whose sister is mayor. She knows homicide and violent crime receive little money in comparison to revenue generating areas, and that the town is largely under the thumb of a specific criminal enterprise. Git is aware of the economic issues the town faces, and her own on a personal level. All seem to know the difficulties family can present, an undercurrent through the book.
Further, it is unknown if a series might result from this volume. While repeating the structure and particular quirks wouldn’t be possible, at the same time there is at least one viewpoint character in a prime position to star in future volumes. Given that this is only the second volume published by A.F. Carter, there is little in the way of pattern to suggest am answer. In any event the volume is a fine standalone, with those hanging loose ends seeming approprite to the setting and story rather than attempts to continue on.
An interesting aspect of this volume comes from it’s status as taking place post-Covid. While not going into great detail about the changes to the world, the events of the pandemic are used to enhance the way a reader understands Git and Delia. Not only the status of each of them as members of their respective professions, but also in relation to them as members of families. This is, certainly, an interesting decision. At the same time it places the book as distinctively speculative, since in many parts of the USA the Covid-19 pandemic is as bad as ever, and the authors status as a New Yorker means that they definitely know it is not over.
Overall The Yards is a brilliant sophmore novel, well worth reading. Fans of crime stories and twisting mysteries should enjoy it, though it might be dark for someone looking for the cozy variety. It further should draw readers to any future work by A.F. Carter, as the author looks to have great talent and skill.
(Mysterious Press 2021)