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Smoke Kings

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Member Reviews

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this eARC.

In the vein of " Get Out' and " Razorblade Tears", "Smoke Kings" by Jahmal Mayfield is a powerful and propulsive novel that defies genre boundaries. With a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, Mayfield weaves a gripping narrative that explores racial tensions, justice, and revenge.

The story centers around Nate Evers, a young black political activist who grapples with rage as his community continues to suffer from violence and injustice. When his little cousin is murdered, Nate rejects the usual responses of graffiti murals, candlelight vigils, and Twitter hashtags. Instead, he leads three grief-stricken friends on a mission of retribution. Their goal? Kidnap the descendants of long-ago perpetrators of hate crimes, confront them with their racist lineages, and force them to pay reparations to a community fund.

For three of the group members, this mission represents justice. But for Nate, it's pure revenge. As they execute their plan, not all targets go quietly into the night. The consequences spiral out of control when they confront the wrong man—a leader of a white supremacist group. Meanwhile, a jaded lawman with disturbingly racist views is hot on their trail.

Mayfield's writing is unflinching. He delves into complex themes, refusing to settle for easy answers. Inspired by Kimberly Jones' viral video, "How can we win?" "Smoke Kings" challenges readers to consider the blurred line between justice and revenge. It's a feast of noir fiction and probing social commentary, where every page simmers with an undercurrent of rage.

The novel captures the age-old truth: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." Mayfield's debut is a testament to the evolving landscape of crime fiction—one that demands introspection and leaves an indelible mark.

About the Author:
Jahmal Mayfield, a gritty crime novelist, touches on large social issues in his work. Born in Virginia and currently residing in New Jersey, he also serves as the director of a nonprofit program providing employment support to people with disabilities. Mayfield's passion for storytelling shines through in "Smoke Kings," a book that resonates far beyond its pages. 📚🔍🔥

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I received a complimentary ARC of this book and the opinions expressed are my own.

Smoke Kings is in my top 5 of everything I’ve read this year. It’s an expertly told, intricate story that explores race, justice, and reparations.

Joshua, Nate, Rachel, and Isiah [I.T.] embark on a mission to get payback in the form of reparations from the descendants of criminals who’ve committed hate crimes in the past. This seems the only solution after Darius [Nate’s cousin and Joshua’s brother] is brutally beaten and gunned down. To no surprise, his white attackers are acquitted. This sets in motion a series of events that would ultimately alter all of their lives.

After a “shake-down” of Scott York goes a bit too far and leaves him shaken, he reaches out to his former baseball coach, Mason. Mason is a southern, retired detective who fits all stereotypical expectations. York hires him to find the crew that threatened his life and is anonymously extorting from him for reparations payments.

While searching for the culprits, Mason discovers a missing person case he believes the four friends are connected to.
The Smoke Kings know they’ve taken things too far after a job results in the accidental death of their intended target. It was sloppy- they’re not killers- and they know if anything gets them caught, it's this. While each of them struggles to reconcile their decisions and maintain trust, friendship, and freedom Mason is hot on their trail. He’s found out about a missing persons case he believes the four friends are connected to.

What happens next is a wild, fast-paced adventure that explores the depths of race and vigilante justice.

My only complaints are that I didn’t feel like the story of Darius was ever completed and the ending was a cliffhanger. However, I would support a follow-up.

I think this book belongs in every thriller/crime/mystery collection.

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This book is unputdownable! I mean, WOW what a novel! I love a revenge thriller, I’m here for the ride. This is a very gritty read, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The writing is fantastic, the characters leap off the page, and the plot is wholly unique. It absolutely made me cry, and there were some very emotional scenes.

The story of Smoke Kings is too brutal and too real to not have the reader wanting revenge and reparations and justice. This thriller handles systemic racial issues that affect Black people in the U.S. everyday, it feels impossible to not agree with Joshua in his quest for revenge. When faced with the history of oppression of Black Americans that still persists to this day, it feels like the revenge Joshua and Nate are exacting is only a small piece of what is owed them.
But this novel is not black and white, and neither is justice.

This novel will haunt you for weeks afterward, in the best way possible. I would recommend this book to fans of S.A. Crosby’s All the Sinners Bleed, and fans of the movie Promising Young Woman. This is one of those books you will never forget.

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An incredibly unputdownable mystery thriller that borderlines revenge porn. But, I’m all here for it. Satisfying in a similar way to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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Mayfield has written quite the debut novel. It’s not your typical thriller and it’s not meant to be. Its release during Black History Month is fortuitous as he has created an incredibly powerful and compelling narrative that is authentic, thought-provoking, perhaps controversial at times, introspective, triggering (at least for me), and thrilling. This one will likely-hopefully- be a springboard for dialogue and would be great for book clubs.

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Revenge or justice? Thriller or social commentary? Retribution or reconciliation? Yes, to all of it!

Nate Evers and his closest three friends seem to have up and coming career paths and futures to pursue. When Darius, Nate’s cousin and Josh’s young brother is killed in a senseless racial act with no accountability or justice, their paths are forever changed. Their new mission is justice with a heavy dose of revenge. They not only want retribution, but they want to right historic wrongs that others have endured through racial violence. They carefully choose their victims, while meting out terror and a threatening choice for them that could be seen as “pay or torture.” Their victims must pay reparations if they want to be let go.

Yet the very acts of revenge are soon leaking into Nate’s soul. When the others see a change in him, he questions their loyalty to him, Darius’s memory, and their mission. Soon they choose the wrong victim, with powerful allies.

Parallel to this story is a retired police officer, Mason, from a victim’s home state, Alabama. He has family problems, a difficult relationship with his racism and a duty to get to the truth of who is behind these acts. To assist him, he meets up with an activist, Elizabeth who is more than his match. Her passion is somewhat naively pursuing a pathway to reconciliation and a reckoning.

Tension drives every moment of this book. What will the four friends do? Will they escape the vengeful ally of their victim? Will the retired police officer be able to bring the four to justice? Who are the guilty? Every decision appears to bring dire and inevitable results.

Readers of S. A. Cosby should add this to their favorite author list. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this title.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for for this read. This was quite good. I found it quite descriptive which I really enjoyed. I like what the author has done here and will be looking out for more of his work.

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Smoke Kings by Jahmal Mayfield is an enthralling crime fiction!
A fierce and compelling novel, springing from a powerful premise and peopled by richly crafted characters. SMOKE KINGS confirms this author's mastery of characterization, as he delivers a read simmering with tension and threaded with haunting themes of race, crime, justice and revenge.
Timely, well-written, relevant, the sharp writing pulling no punches, this is a thought-provoking and important novel, that lays bare the injustices, the prejudices, the hate, discrimination, and the violence that many still endure every single day.
A phenomenal yet compelling novel with a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters. This impressive tale explores decades of racial tensions through a fictional landscape where the line between justice and revenge is blurred.

"I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own."

Thank You NetGalley and Melville House for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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Smoke kings is a thriller with depth and social commentary. A group of friends become vigilantes to avenge hate crimes of their ancestors. They are looking for reparations, but one in particular is out for revenge. One of their targets won’t go easily and begins to target the group back. The novel explores themes of race and racism, but does it in a nuanced and thoughtful way. The characters, while doing unlikeable things, do remain likable and the reader finds compassion for them, rooting on their cause. I would be interested in reading more from this author, as this was a strong debut and solid and necessary new voice to social crime fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing the arc in exchange for honest review via NetGalley.

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Given the systemic injustices Black people continue to face in America today, it’s honestly surprising that more don’t pick up arms and strike out as vigilantes, as the four main characters of this tense and often heartbreaking novel do. Darius is a teenager when he’s beaten to death while walking to catch a train. His killers are acquitted. Four of the people who loved Darius the most channel their rage and grief into finding justice, if not for Darius himself, then for the Black people who were similarly murdered for no reason beyond their race.

Nate, Darius’ cousin, is the vigilantes’ leader. Joshua, Darius’ older brother, is their heart. Rachel, a close family friend, and her fiance Isiah, a tech whiz, complete their team. Alluring Rachel can easily pass as white but embraces her Black heritage. Isiah is Korean but was adopted by a white family who did little, at best, to encourage his interest in his ethnic background. The four friends all loved and encouraged bright, ambitious Darius to succeed. Having him ripped from them is just the impetus they need to start righting historic wrongs.

At first, the friends are united in their targets and methods, tracking down the wealthy, criminal descendants of white folks who got away with lynching Black people in decades, even centuries past. The money they extort from their victims all goes anonymously to the living descendents of the Black dead, as a form of reparations. Alas, cracks soon start to form in the four friends’ alliance, as Nate grows increasingly erratic and Isiah attempts to All Lives Matter their cause. An upset Rachel confronts her fiance over his clashes with their leader:

“Because what matters to Nate, it matters to me as well. Matters to Joshua. You seem to be the only one of us who doesn’t give a shit.”

“That’s not fair, Rache.”

“We targeted our own kind, and that still isn’t enough for you.”

“There you go with that tribal bullshit,” Isiah said. “I feel sorry for you, Rache.”


“[Our target]’s darker than you, and Nate picked at him, said he wasn’t black. That didn’t bother you?”

“Nothing I haven’t heard before. You yourself made a comment about my lil’ drop of black. That lil’ drop is more powerful than a million drops of something else.”

“Listen to you,” Isaiah said. “I think you actually hate the white part of yourself.”

Though our protagonists do their best to keep it together, united by their shared love and commitment to justice, things eventually fall apart. When they choose the wrong target and the violence goes too far, they soon become the quarries themselves, as a conflicted former lawman finds himself caught between them and their even worse adversaries.

Smoke Kings is the kind of book where what you get out of it depends a lot on what you come into it with. I had little patience for Mason Farmer, the supposed average guy trying to track down the vigilantes, who subsequently gets caught in the middle. I understand the point of him as a character, but I could have genuinely done without the amount of time spent in his viewpoint chapters trying to absolve himself of his frankly unacceptable racism. This is not at all, however, an indictment of the book, which does an exemplary job of showing the many different and difficult facets of race relationships and racial conflict in America. It’s just that I as a brown person face enough racism in my daily life to feel truly comfortable reengaging with the self-justifying thought processes of those who actively diminish me based on my appearance. Perhaps some readers will see their own similarity to Mason and reconsider their own choices though.

I had a lot more empathy for the vigilantes, and especially for Joshua, who knows full well what he’s sacrificing when he chooses his path:

If he was honest with himself, though he’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this–blood on their hands–he’d known the chance existed. Nate had become increasingly volatile. And they’d all seen it and allowed him to seduce them into continuing. Joshua hadn’t liked who he was becoming, either, who he’d become, and had thought it best to leave [his girlfriend] Alani out of it, out of his life period. So, he’d broken it off with her. Other than the shit with his little brother, the breakup with Alani was the most difficult thing he’d dealt with in a long time–ironic they should happen back-to-back. His mother talked often about seasons of trouble. Maybe this was his.

For being the emotional heart and relatively calm center of this novel, Joshua has the most clarity, even as he’s operating from a place of unspeakable pain. The path of vengeance is lonely and, while not entirely futile, open to causing far more harm than good. The endings of this novel are deeply unsettling, befitting the subject matter but not at all making for a feel-good read. It is, however, a realistic look at the unending cycle of violence that can seize a nation when the justice, education and welfare systems fail to truly care for their peoples.

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Ok! I’m definitely adding Jahmal Mayfield to my list of new authors to watch!

What an intense ride. This was an emotional and at sometimes an even stressful read, but it was well worth it.

Race and racism isn’t as cut and dried as we all want it to be and this novel does a great job of exploring that. You’ll definitely be thinking about story long after you’ve finished the book.

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It's a good and entertaining story with multidimensional characters and cool twists. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the well-thought-out plot and the author's ability to keep the reader engaged. Worth a shot.

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I like this book. I was hoping that it would have a quicker pace in the beginning but I get that they have to build up the story.
I am excited to read this author's work in the future.

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#SmokeKings #NetGalley
SMOKE KINGS: a blistering thriller in which the issue of racism is not so black-and-white.
One of the ills of society nowadays is undoubtedly racism, and countless books have been written to speak staunchly against it.
SMOKE KINGS, a fine effort by Jahmal Mayfield, is one such book that has gripped me from start to end. You know why? Because while it condemns racism very overtly, it also has the common sense to suggest that things are not as black-and-white, or rather, black-or-white, as they seem, in this regard.
The protagonist, Joshua, lost his brother, Darius, to a senseless act of violence, and decided to focus his anger and pain upon getting reparations for the evil perpetuated by racists, together with a tight-knit unit of vigilantes who kidnap those they know to be involved with hate crimes and force them to donate money to a fund dedicated to helping the victims of racism. Of course, though, things go south, as they are bound to, and it all leads to this increasingly intense and intricate path that the characters walk, blurring the lines between justice and vengeance, revenge and reparation, black and white. I would love to see this as a movie or series with an ensemble African-American cast, and I think the author would to, because this is the kind of pedal-to-the-metal thriller that just refuses to let up. Solid five outta five! I will be watching Mr. Mayfield very closely!

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I appreciate the way Smoke Kings marries social justice with crime fiction in a way I haven't seen done before. I absolutely loved The H.A.T.E. U Give, and in some ways Mayfield is enacting a similar type of critique. The stakes are high here! Recommend reading. Thanks for the ARC!

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This is a well written, powerful novel about social justice, reparations, and taking the law into your own hands. These fully developed characters are rife with internal and external conflict, while their unique approach to social justice comes woefully unraveled. Well paced, with emotionally taut scenes, kept me reading almost straight through. Highly recommended

Thanks to NetGalley and Melville House for an advanced reader copy.

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Thanks to Melville House and NetGalley for this digital ARC of Jahmal Mayfield's 'Smoke Kings.'

This is a very topical book, it deals with overt and implicit racism, the pandemic and its effects on people and behavior, the conversation and actions around reparations, and the sins of the fathers.

It starts off very tightly but, I think, begins to lose focus as we move through it. The focus moves off the main character, Nate, and begins to float around a bit with his friends and a couple of other characters beginning to get more spotlight which, in my opinion, does all of them a disservice. Might've been better to keep the focus a little more tightly on a few of the key characters. Joshua, for instance, a really key figure in the beginning and whose family is the spark for the group's activities just seems to fade away for the most part.

The white, racist characters especially seem to be quite cliched and stereotypical and a few years back I would've said that that was a distraction but as I read it I came to the realization that, unfortunately, it's probably a very accurate depiction of far too many people, especially the types of people in the book.

This is an enjoyable book but I think there's a better one in there waiting to get out. There could be a sequel and I'd love to read that. I bet it would be a better book.

I'd say this is a 3.5 rather than a 4 star book but it's definitely better than a 3!

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Revenge or justice? Fighting against racism or highly racist themselves? Anger is never a good adviser and can easily spiral out of control.
It took me some time to get into this novel but it was worth keeping on. Excellent characters, excellent suspense and incredibly impartial, ultimately condemning all forms of racism in whatever disguise.
My only regret is the end, too many loose ends. But I guess that's how reality is. There are always loose ends and no happy endings for all.

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"A fresh and fierce new voice to crime fiction. .. a stunning book that takes the reader on an intense and harrowing journey that is truly unforgettable. Consider me a big fan." — Don Winslow , New York Times bestselling author of The Cartel, The Force and City on Fire

Perfect. Important. A must-read.

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I was super excited to read this book based on the intriguing cover (I felt it was giving Donald Glover type vibes), but then it sat on my shelf unread for a couple weeks because I peeked inside and I just wasn’t hooked the way I thought I’d be.

It’s a *good* book but that‘s about it… maybe I’ll revisit later on this year before it’s published?

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