Mysterious Press, $25.00, 326 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-2046-5
Some years from now, when future historians examine and analyze the early twentieth century and the factors leading up to the first World War, one of them will pay particular attention to the Mexican Revolution. Then, as now, Mexico had a prickly relationship with the United States. With mechanized war on an industrial scale looming in Europe; Mexico was a prime source of the oil needed to run those armies. As such she was courted by Germany, who, like the English, had converted their navy from coal to oil. At the same time, inequities in wealth, land reform and social structure had led to the Mexican peasant revolution. It was headed up by the legendary Doroteo Arango, known to all the world as Pancho Villa. He controlled the peasants . . . as well as most of northern Mexico, for the duration of the war. Into the midst of this cauldron of social interest and war, newly elected President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson sent a couple of shiploads of US Marines as an expeditionary force. They landed and took over the oil-producing and shipping port of Vera Cruz, located on the Gulf of Mexico.
And that, is the complex and fascinating background against which this week’s Mysterious Book Report Number 85 is written.
The Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler follows the exploits of newspaper reporter Christopher Marlowe Cobb, “Kit” to his mother and friends, Christopher Cobb on his byline at the Chicago Post Express. He’s a wise-cracking, jaded, world-wise foreign correspondent sent to Mexico to report on the war, and the doings of El Presidente, Victoriano Huerto, known as El Chacal, The Jackal. Soon after his arrival in the tierra caliente, the hot country, Christopher Cobb is up to his ears in intrigue, gun ships, Germans, ambassadors, spies and a beautiful assassin named Luisa . . . with whom he falls in love. There are plenty of gun battles, train robberies, horses, cowboys, drinking, carousing and clandestine meetings . . . making this one an action-packed, fast paced thrill ride from the first page to the surprising ending. Simply put, Robert Olen Butler is a helluva good writer with a bandolier-full of novels to his credit. As this is his first run at mystery fiction, I wasn’t familiar with his work . . . even though he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s an error of mine which, now fixed, shouldn’t have happened. I’m looking forward to reading his next and the ones after that. So, do yourself a favor and toss out that latest Reacher formulaic from the big machine publishing company. Read this excellent novel instead and you, like me, will be eager for the next adventure from the pen of Robert Olen Butler. Readers are sure to be lost in literature in the opening paragraphs of The Hot Country, and not emerge from that alternate universe until the very last page is read. Don’t say you weren’t warned after you stay up all night reading. Enjoy!