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Smoke City

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  238 ratings  ·  89 reviews
2019 IPPY Award Silver Medalist
2019 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Silver Winner
Powell's Books Best Fiction of 2018

Marvin Deitz has some serious problems. His mob-connected landlord is strong-arming him out of his storefront. His therapist has concerns about his stability. He’s compelled to volunteer at the local Children’s Hospital even though it breaks his heart every week
Hardcover, ARC Edition, 309 pages
Published January 23rd 2018 by Meerkat Press, LLC
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Average rating 4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  238 ratings  ·  89 reviews

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Keith Rosson
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Hands down the best novel about Joan of Arc's remorseful and reincarnated executioner taking a road trip to LA with a downtrodden and self-destructive ex-art star that I'VE ever written, I can tell you that much. ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Smoke City is a wonderfully unusual book that is a bit hard to pin down or categorize. It has underlying themes of guilt, redemption, penance, forgiveness, and despair.

It has a story that spans centuries, beginning with the childhood memories of the executioner who lit the flame in 1431 when he burned the Maid of Orleans - aka Joan of Arc - at the stake. Though that was his career, what could come of killing the embodiment of goodness and light on Earth? What possible penance could ever be enou
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A thousand thanks to the GR friend who led me to this book by mentioning that it was one of the best books they've read this year! I wish I could remember your name! It's such a thrill to find a wonderful new author in a small press book.

This book has three compelling elements - the guilt-ridden executioner of Joan of Arc, an alcoholic formerly famous painter, and what appear to be ghosts in Los Angeles - and combines them into a road trip to possible redemption. A lesser author could have turne
Kit (Metaphors and Moonlight)
4 Stars

*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*

This was one of those books that called to me as soon as I read the blurb. And fortunately, this book was exactly what I was hoping it would be—strange, quirky, and offbeat, but also touching. The characters had depth and unique voices. The writing was rich. The plot was fairly slow, but that’s because the plot wasn’t really the point—this was all about the characters and their inner journeys.

Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great read. Was recommended to this book by a friend whom I usually don't share opinions with = my expectations were low. Thought I would stop after a few pages. But no. Read the book in three days. There you have it! ...more
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the near future, ghosts referred to as “smokes” have started appearing in southern California and northern Mexico, with Los Angeles as smoke central. These ghosts don’t go ‘boo’; they do not interact with people at all. They just show up, do their thing, and disappear.

Mike Vale lives in Portland, OR. Once the most highly praised young artist in the US, for years he’s been a self-destructive drunk who hasn’t painted a thing. Upon getting word that his ex-wife has suddenly died, he feels he mu
If someone told you to braid together three disparate story lines (let's say, the reincarnated soul of Joan of Arc's executioner, a washed-up alcoholic artist, and a sudden rash of ghost appearances), could you do it? Could you do it without sounding like an idiot? Keith Rosson can -- magnificently.

Rosson's characters are so layered and so well defined, they absolutely hum with realism, even when they're talking to ghosts, or remembering the lives they've lived since 1375.

Joan of Arc's execution
Mel (Epic Reading)
Jun 14, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: arc-netgalley
DNF @ 65%

If I'm going to give up on a book I like to do it at around the 30%-40% mark. As that feels like a point at which I've given the book a fair shot, but also it's still worthwhile to give up and not complete the book for reading challenge. Smoke City really challenged my usual 'rules' for DNF's.
Oddly, I didn't DNF because this is a bad book, but because it just lost appeal for me. I didn't care what happened to any of our characters nor was I intrigued enough by the plot to continue. It
Barb (Boxermommyreads)
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Sometimes you just read a book that's hard to explain but which also really clicks with you. Smoke City is that book. So basically Marvin, one of the three MCs, believes that he is personally responsible for executing Joan of Arc many many years ago and that because of doing so, he is cursed to be reborn over and over again. He also believes that his time is up in a few weeks. Suddenly Marvin sees an individual who claims to be Joan of Arc reincarnated, and he is on a mission to find her and apo ...more
I received this ARC for free in exchange for my honest review.


I had no idea what to expect when I got this book and even after I started it, I still wasn't sure what to expect. There were so many individual and interesting pieces happening all at once but there was never a single time that the story drug on. The writing was brilliant, the story was great, and I definitely shed a few tears. Tears usually mean 5 stars.

Mike Vale was a young and insanely famous artist once upon a tim
Lynda Dickson
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ages 17+
Shelves: adult
Mike Vale is a brilliant artist who has fallen from grace into drunken obscurity. When his ex-wife dies suddenly, he feels compelled to travel to Los Angeles for her funeral. He picks up hitchhiker Marvin Deitz, who has been reincarnated and forced to die again and again as penance for executing Joan of Arc. Marvin is due to die again soon and is headed to Los Angeles in a last-ditch effort at redemption. Along the way, they pick up another hitchhiker - the ironically named Casper - a ghost hunt ...more
Smoke City by Keith Rosson is my second literary encounter with this author. My first was in Behind The Mask: A Superhero Anthology. Both books were sent to me by the publisher, Meerkat Press, as ARCs for review.

Near future Los Angeles is having a huge epidemic of spectral appearances in Smoke City, but we don't become aware of them until the characters arrive there. That's because this fantasy isn't primarily about ghosts. It focuses on the characters. There are two major viewpoint characters w
Beautiful...sad...horrific...funny...incredibly enjoyable read spanning 600 years in the life of the executioner of Jean D'Arc

Review to follow
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is bats**t crazy and impossible to summarize. On the one hand, we have Marvin who believes he is the reincarnation many times over of the man who executed Joan of Arc in 1431. On the other hand, we have Mike Vale, a has-been painter with a serious drinking and anger-management problem. Turns out both need to get from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles fast. The fact that L.A. is a hot spot for “Smokes”, which are brief apparitions of grieving ghosts that have been blocking traffic and ter ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hearing the book reviewed and the author interviewed on NPR brought this current (published this year, in 2018) work of fiction to my attention. The author is local for me --- he lives in Portland, Oregon --- and part of the story takes place in Portland, with neighborhoods and streets I know. For me this was one of those highly satisfying reading experiences where after only a few pages one gets the exciting, anticipatory feeling that “this is going to be good” and as the book went on that was ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars

In this novel, we meet Mike Vale who was once a world-famous artist whose works sold for millions of dollars. Some years later he has become an alcoholic who hasn’t painted in years. We also meet Marvin Dietz who is in the process of being evicted by his suspected mob-connected landlord. His therapist is worried about him and he is delusional and imagines that he is the reincarnation of Geoffroy Therage. Geoffroy is the man who met Joan of Arc only once – on the day he executed her in Fra
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one quirky piece of fiction. Like Joshua Ferris or Brock Clarke quirky. But also, well written fiction, much like Joshua Ferris or Brock Clarke. Ghosts, the reincarnated executioner of Joan of Arc, and one really messed up alchoholic artist on a hurried road trip to make it to his ex-wife's funeral on time all drive the narrative. Oddly, even after that description, I would describe this as an upbeat book, which is how the quirky ones tend to go. ...more
Elizabeth Sund
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who liked Meddling Kids
I wish I would have realized more early on that this book's main feeling is fun. In this world of dark/gritty sadness, I was ready for things to go really bad at every turn. Instead, this turned out to be a fun romp road-trip book. I loved Marvin so much. The description of reincarnation as torture in this book was spot on. ...more
Linda Hepworth
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Marvin Deitz is struggling: his landlord is trying to evict him from his record shop; his therapist is concerned about his sanity and his heart is being broken by the suffering he sees on the children’s oncology ward where he volunteers for four hours a week. If all of that wasn’t enough he knows that he won’t live beyond his imminent fifty seventh birthday. He knows this for a certainty because he is the reincarnation of the French executioner who lit Joan of Arc’s pyre in 1431 and, for over si
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the second Keith Rosson book that I have read and this one is much better that Mercy of the Tide. I think Rosson is excellent at character development, they all seem so real. But MotT really needed help in the plot and resolution. Smoke City has a much better story attached to the characters but I would call the resolution still a little soft. Clearly he is getting better with the practice of having a second book and I look forward to his next one.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smoke City is a character-driven road trip that individually brings two guilt-ridden men under a spotlight to win a mission of their own.

This story was insane because the characters were insane and all in a good way. Each character's ark is evidently well worked upon and makes them not only come alive to me, but I can sympathise with them too (not literally, just as a nineteen-year-old reader, LOL). Marvin is a 57-year-old man who sets out to apologise a woman who claims to have been posses
Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V.
I thought the concept of this book sounded awesome! Marvin Dietz has been reborn over and over again, with all his previous lives memories intact. Ever since the day he lit the pyre that send Joan of Arc to death, he has lived with the awful curse, has borne dozens of children, and watched everyone he loved die as he continued to be reborn. But never to live past his 57th birthday (I can’t remember for sure, but somewhere in his 50’s). When the “smokes” (apparitions) start to show up around the ...more
Milos Mojsilovic
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Los Angeles, California. Home of Hollywood’s extravagant entertainment industry, where fortunes are made and dreams come true. But that’s not all that makes up Los Angeles. Not anymore. Ghosts— visions and specters— now haunt the city."

Imagine if you will....the year is 1431. & you are Geoffroy Thérage, the executioner who set Joan of Arc on fire. After that you live out the rest of your life believing that you will be condemned for that act. And then, few decades later, you die. But that is no
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I remember reading Smoke City's synopsis and thinking that it reminded me a little bit of Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim: The L.A. setting, the supernatural elements, a middle-aged man drinking his sorrows and kicking ass... and getting his ass kicked more often than not. This book ended up being so much more.

Marvin Deitz is the latest reincarnation of Joan of Arc's executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, and he looks for redemption any way he can. He is about to lose his store, and his therapist just bro
Annette Jordan
An unusual and interesting book , and one that is difficult to pin down, but definitely one that I enjoyed reading. Beginning with two very disparate story threads , it is a testament to the skill and imagination of the author that by the ending of the book, they have been woven together completely seamlessly,
The central character of the first story thread is Mike Vale, an alcoholic who thew away his marriage and incredibly successful art career, and is now reaching rock bottom, while in the ot
Joshua Buhs
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: weird
Metaphysical adventure.

It reminded me of Up Jumped the Devil or The Holy, road stories across time and space that deal with transcendental themes. In this case, there are three main characters, the executioner of Joan of Arc, whose been alive for the last six hundred years and cursed; an alcoholic painter; and a yokel who wants to make a reality tv show. They travel to Los Angeles, for various reasons that bring them together--a Los Angeles that is being visited by ghosts (or smokes) for reasons
Irene Adam
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received a free advance e-copy of this book and have chosen to write an honest and unbiased review. I have no personal affiliation with the author. ‘Smoke City’ starts out at a slow pace and seemed to be a little confusing at the beginning as the author backgrounds the story and develops the characters in order to familiarize the reader with each character. Stick with it as once the story gets going the different stories of each character come together and merge into a very unique and interest ...more
Erin Cataldi
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Ridiculously original, I can't even think of a book to compare this too. Joan of Arc's executioner has been reincarnated time and again and finds himself living a droll existence as a record store owner in Portland, Oregon. Marvin has never lived past 57 so he knows his time is near. He's all but resigned to the fact when he sees a woman on a daytime talk show claim to be Joan of Arc reincarnated. Is this it? Is this Marvin's chance to break the cycle of reincarnation and make amends for killing ...more
Sabetha | Aconite Cafe
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading a second time through is really fascinating, so much more of the 'is fate real, and anyone can recompense' message seeps through. Still one of my top 5 recommended books. A thought provoking read.

You read that blurb, and look at that cover, and still you'll have no idea that journey you're about to embark on. Smoke City will make you book drunk. Having finished it, after not being able to put it down, I am still basking in the book drunk feeling. The message that Smoke City delivers is p
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not your typical road trip. Mike Vale is a down and out artist-alcoholic-loser just looking for ways that he can sink lower. As he heads to LA to attend or maybe disrupt his ex-wife’s funeral he picks up Marvin. Marvin is the reincarnated executioner of Joan of Arc. Casper stows away in their van because he wants to get to LA to make a documentary about the ghosts that have been popping up all over the country. Somehow it all connects together into a quirky story of friendship and redemp ...more
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“Marvin, you're here now," Vale said. He stood up, his knees popping. "The food sucks. They have severed animal heads in the bar. I don't know if you know that." His cigarette sparked against the gravel and he ratcheted open my walker in front of me. "But you're among friends, okay, and you're still walking upright and taking solids. You're winning. Anything beyond that is thinking too far ahead” 1 likes
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