Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Alone on the Triple Border

Triple Crossing: A Novel takes place mostly at the intersection of politics and the "war" on drugs along the perilous U.S. border with Mexico. It's a book that will probably cause you to throw your hands up in despair; it may also break your heart.

Valentine Pescatore is a young man who has escaped a troubled past in Chicago and joined the Border Patrol. He's still trying to figure out who he is and what his place in life might be. More sympathetic to the illegal immigrants he encounters than many other agents, Valentine bridles at the callous, macho attitude of his direct supervisor. Unsure of himself and trying to fit in, Valentine will party with the man and follow his orders, but he's still uncomfortable about the situation in which he finds himself.

Leo Mendez, a former journalist, has been appointed head of a special Mexican task force, known as the Diogenes Group, and has been charged with the seemingly impossible task of rooting out corruption within the Mexican police. Isabel Puente is a U.S. federal agent who joins forces with Mendez in an effort to bring down a powerful Mexican family that has strong ties both to the government and to the Mexican criminal network.

When Pescatore illegally chases an immigrant back across the border into Mexico, he falls into the clutches of Puente who gives him a stark choice: he can either be punished and perhaps jailed for crossing the border in violation of the law, or he can join her team as an undercover agent.

Pescatore takes door number two, in part because he is strongly attracted to Puente. A reader knows that in any normal thriller, things will immediately go terribly wrong and poor Valentine will find himself in deep, deep trouble. But this is no ordinary thriller. The author, Sebastian Rotella, is an award-winning reporter and a Pulitzer finalist who has covered the U.S.-Mexican border for over twenty years. He is the author of a previous, non-fiction book, Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border, and he obviously knows the territory. This book has the ring of truth, and given the setup, the reader knows that Valentine's troubles are going to be way beyond those of the normal thriller's protagonist.

When things do go sideways, Pescatore finds himself alone in South America's infamous Triple Border, a lawless no-man's land of smugglers and violent criminals. The bad guys don't completely trust him; his own people think he's gone over to the other side, and the prospect of any sort of justice--for Valentine or for anyone else--seems as remote as the Triple Border itself.

This book makes an excellent companion piece to Don Winslow's excellent book, The Power of the Dog. It's not quite on a par with Winslow's book but it's close, and anyone who enjoyed The Power of the Dog and anyone interested in the situation along the nation's border with Mexico should find it an enormously worthwhile and enjoyable read.        

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

All He Does Is Drive

This is an excellent contemporary noir novel in which a character becomes caught up by circumstances largely beyond his control and must then struggle to somehow survive.

The main protagonist, Driver, is a stunt driver for the movies, and there's none better. But he also moonlights driving for robberies, and the thrill is principally in the driving itself rather than in the monetary rewards. He makes his position clear to anyone who wants to employ his services: "I drive. That's all I do. I don't sit in while you're planning the score or while you're running it down. You tell me where we start, where we're headed, where we'll be going afterwards, what time of day. I don't take part, I don't know anyone, I don't carry weapons. I drive."

Apart from his driving, Driver leads a minimalist existence, moving frequently, paying cash, leaving virtually no trail. But then, as must always happen in a book like this, things go wrong on a number of levels; Driver winds up alienating some very bad people and the game is on.

This is a beautifuly written book, lean and taut without a single wasted word. One hopes that the release of the movie made from the book will finally garner for it and for James Sallis the wider attention that both he and this book certainly deserve.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Goodbye to the Assassin

Set in 2045, this is the concluding volume in Robert Ferrigno's Assassin trilogy. A devious and ambitious one hundred and fifty year-old character called the Old One dreams of creating a Muslim Caliphate under his own rule. He's been laboring on the project for years (and through the two previous books in this series, Prayers for the Assassin and Sins of the Assassin). As part of the scheme, years earlier, he planted suitcase nukes in New York, Washington, D.C. and Mecca.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the United States crumbled and was divided, essentially, into two-parts, the Belt, dominated by Christians, and the Republic, dominated by Muslims. As this book opens, both regions are threatened by the powerful Aztlan Empire to the south, which is nibbling away at the former U.S., determined at a minimum to regain the territory that the U.S. annexed from Mexico in the middle of the 19th century.

While the Old One manipulates events from behind the scenes, sowing chaos in a fashion calculated to advance his own ambitions, some strategically placed people in the Republic are developing plans to reunite the Belt and the Republic in the hope of restoring the glory of the former U.S. While the politicians and others maneuver, Rakkim Epps, a moderate Muslim and genetically enhanced warrior fights the evil-doers (as he has in the previous books) and attempts to support all things good and virtuous in a decaying world. Rakkim is married to Sarah, a gifted historian who is key to the reunification plans, but in this book, he is also sorely tempted by Baby, the scheming, voluptuous daughter of the Old One.

Ferrigno has created in these books a chilling vision of the near future and a memorable cast of characters. Readers who find the premise appealing will certainly want to read the books in order, although any one of them could be read as a stand-alone.