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.        

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