“Charles Forrest Jones has written an unflinchingly intimate epic: a patchwork portrait of lives that are far from simple, in a rural Kansas county that is anything but barren. The story pulses with life, teems with gorgeously understated description, and glimmers with truths that are violent, beautiful, ugly, gutting, funny, and real. In these pages, the world is cracked wide open to reveal people who should be stitched together by shared wounds instead of pitted against each other for survival. And all the while, political machinations churn as they do: absurdly theatrical, unethical in execution, and farcically bureaucratic. The Illusion of Simple is an important book—one that pries open life, bigotry, and love and its limits.”—Chris Harding Thornton, author, Pickard County Atlas

“Deftly rendering the desolate landscape and agrarian politics of Ewing County, Kansas, Jones reveals a rural community riven by sins and secrets. A dusty, dark novel full of twists and turns, grief and regret . . . and hope.”—J. Todd Scott, author, Lost River

“I swallowed up The Illusion of Simple in a few sittings. Rather, it swallowed me. From its opening pages, the novel drew me in and wouldn’t let go. Charles Forrest Jones does a masterful job composing a narrative that is compelling, artful, and timely. He takes dead aim at the reader and doesn’t flinch; there is no illusion of simplicity here.”—Andrew Malan Milward, author, I Was a Revolutionary


Elisa Speranza

Charles Forrest Jones has given us an important and timely gift. The Illusion of Simple does what the best fiction is supposed to do: it creates empathy and understanding through masterful storytelling. The characters are well-developed and Jones’ keen rendering of place—sometimes lovingly, sometimes shining a harsh light on truths we need to see—makes this an exceptional and compelling read. Highly recommended.


Trisha M, Reviewer

One thing I'll take from this book is Sheriff Spire's advice - the first pulse to take is your own! I really enjoyed this book. The sheriff's character and back story is well developed and draws you into a particular time and place in Kansas. The novel is engaging throughout and in addition to being a good detective story it also presents a frighteningly believable glimpse into American politics. .It's a great read and I strongly recommend it.

Reviewer 809189

I am originally from a small Kansas town so many of the things really brought me back. Where everyone knows everyone else and their past and that can sometimes be a good and bad thing at the same time. So many Kansas details, such as the one-finger wave! There were a lot of characters and a lot going on but the story centered around Sherriff Billy Spires and Senator Middleton who grew up friends and brothers of sorts even though they weren’t actually related and had totally opposite personalities. When a dead body of a local man is found by a troop of girl scouts, Sheriff Spires investigates what happened. Along the way, we hear from many different characters and at times we go back and learn the history of the characters, the way this was done was seamless and followed the story. It also delves into politics and what it takes to get things done in the legislature. Beautifully written story about small towns and Kansas. I highly recommend. Loved the cover of the book…very clever and interesting. Thanks to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for allowing me to read this book.

Educator 269454

In Ewing, Kansas during the farm crisis of the 1980's, "farms failed, families moved, depopulation began. Large machines offset vanishing workers, then displaced those who tried to hang on...The local economy serve[d] only to sustain that which has endured." Stonewall Hospital, formerly a clothing store, was staffed by an old physician, Don Howard and his nurse wife "Mama Doc". The Ewing County Sheriff's Office had no budget to hire deputies. Ayesha Perez was the champion of a needy girl troop, trying to provide the girls with unburdened freedom and adventure. "She is offended by affronts to the humanity of others." A trip to the depleted Arkansas riverbed...girls playing soccer with a clump of leather, a work glove. "Somebody lost a glove and left their hand inside." Billy Spire, Sheriff of Ewing County, was called to the scene. "Billy Spire's appearance suggests a brutish and plodding intelligence or a serious drinking problem...he scarcely drinks." [Diet cola, please] "Billy learned distrust and physical toughness from a father who "showed his drinking buddies what true toughness looked like." Two "self-appointed" deputies came to assist. Owen Middleton, President of Stonewall Savings and Loan, "learned business at his daddy's knee, the intricacies and interplay of wealth, power, information and opportunity." Leo Ace, self appointed local historian, ran Ace's Auto Repair, the only repair shop in town. He sported an Elvis pompadour. Ace found the pickup truck with a flat tire, a truck belonging to Russ Haycock. The Green Dodge truck sat unseen, on an elevated curve, between two straight stretches of highway. "There was one thing for sure, 'bad trouble and Russ Haycock always had a way of finding each other." The ties that bound the residents of Ewing, Kansas were told through backstories; tales of friendships, made and broken, dreams and reality, realized or crushed. "The Illusion of Simple" by Charles Forrest Jones is a multifaceted mystery, part detective story, part commentary on issues including inclusion, joblessness, politics, love, hope and redemption. Detailed character development created a thorough understanding of the populace in this one horse town. This reader was left with feelings of hope for the small, midwestern, fictitious town. Highly recommended. Thank you University of Iowa Press and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

sara a, Reviewer

It's only January 9th but I do believe I have already read the book that will be my top read of the year! I love grit lit and the best grit lit is set in Texas or Kansas. The Illusion of Simple is set in Kansas and as someone who once lived in Kansas, I was immediately drawn to this book and the descriptions of the small towns near Topeka. The people, the place, the situations, the diners--it's all here with a gripping story of a murder and how it all came about. Most of all, I think it is about identity politics. At least that is the message that rang clear for me. But every reader will walk away with something different and that truly is the hallmark of a darn good book. Highly recommended! Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.

Educator 719848

My first book to read by this author but I cannot wait to read more. Beautifully written and you think about it long after you finish it. Highly recommend!

 Peggy W, Reviewer

The Illusion of Simple is not a Simple story but the complications highlight the vagaries of human nature. For me, individual sentences brought this book to life—especially this one which captures the essence of the story--“the first pulse to take is your own.” An interconnected Kansas town where young girls out scouting find a human hand in a glove—an auspicious beginning of a rambling murder mystery filled with personalities, racial biases and political intrigue. Our protagonist, sheriff Billy Spire, follows the leads to understand the murder of a Viet Nam vet who lives in isolation with his Vietnamese wife. The funeral, performed by a young, naïve Catholic priest and attended by most of the town sets the stage further with intriguing characters with small town, political, and religious characters. The dying town has been given the dilemma of developing enterprises, justice, and virtue. A deep look at human nature, contrasting innocence and greed; hope and desperation; authenticity and deceit. A book that will make you want to take your own pulse first.