The ever-deteriorating and deadly state of the U.S./Mexican border, the growing area of virtual lawlessness and the extending influence and corruption of criminal organizations into the no-longer hermetically sealed off sacred bosom of the heartland and our national head-space are the backdrop for three new and worthwhile books.
Sebastian Rotella has been covering the intensifying situation for a long time now. His 1998 book Twilight on the Line came out of many years as a journalist covering the border (as well as crime, terrorism and immigration). So it’s no wonder his debut novel Triple Crossing has the immediacy and tonal accuracy of a field trip to Juarez. This thriller about a border agent undercover inside Mexican organized crime crackles like Rice Krispies in nitroglycerin.
Tricia Fields’ The Territory introduces Josie Gray, the police chief of Artemis Texas. She heads a three-person force, which should be enough for the 2500 residents of the border town, but things are rapidly spiraling out of control. The book opens with a breathless sequence involving the assassination of a Cartel head that spills across the border and into the operating room of a Texas hospital. During the operation, Josie kills one assassin and captures another, setting herself squarely in the rival Cartel’s crosshairs. Meanwhile, a fire-arm enthusiast and head of a local militia has been murdered shortening the list of bodies under her protection by one, but complicating her work infinitely, especially when she learns that the victim’s considerable and exotic personal arsenal has been cleaned out. The shootout and the murder don’t have much of a calming effect on the cool-headed contingent of the population, never mind the armed and volatile faction. Josie is against the wall politically, personally and lethally every step of the way in this hard-edged debut.
With his latest, El Gavilan, Craig McDonald takes the border into New Austin, Ohio where a recent flood of immigration has rocked the status quo and three very different lawmen set about policing the population three very different ways. On a good day they’re uneasy allies, but municipal chiefs Tell Lyon and Walt Pierce and county sheriff Able Hawk will subvert, out-maneuver and finally come into mortal combat with each other over the investigation of a brutal crime. When the body of a Mexican-American woman is discovered raped, murdered and dumped at the nexus of municipal lines, the race is on to claim jurisdiction over the potential landmine of a case. McDonald manipulates the plot – forward action balanced with flashback histories of the major players – to maximize the impact of every event, and this lateral move from his ongoing Hector Lassiter series is a major step forward for his already formidable breadth and range. (Incidentally, I think this book is best read with Ry Cooder in the background.)
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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