Let me say, up front, that I do not, as a rule, read dark books. My genre is Fantasy. But I have read posts by JD Mader, read reviews of this book, and heard from others about how good it is. So, with some curiosity and a little trepidation, I opened Joe Café and began to read.
It IS dark. The story begins with a senseless quadruple murder. It progresses into the aftermath for the murderer, the town, the town’s detective and others touched by the crime in some way. Mader examines one aspect of society many of us never brush up against, at least not enough to be personally touched by it. Some might be drawn to read this expecting to have their voyeur curiosity satisfied. If so they are in for a surprise. Mader understands his characters so intimately that they are real for us. He helps us see that even those we deem the most unsavoury have qualities that make them sympathetic. It is not that Mader explains what motivates them, though he does that to a degree, it is more that he lets us get inside their heads so that we, too, begin to understand them. We lose our aversion, even some of our fear. We accept that their raw language is normal, that their behaviours make sense, given the hand fate has dealt them. We see redemption in some, decline in others, and in the young woman kidnapped by the murderer, a strength we would never have imagined for one with her personal story.
It would be accurate to say that Joe Café is a mystery, a crime story and a detective story. Yet, for me, it was a character study, one that accepted and understood, intimately, each of the individuals in it. Those individuals are revealed by Mader with such deft, delicate sensitivity that we care about each one and forget this is only a book.