A former Marine haunted by dreams of war seeks healing through painting, but his art lands him in a different kind of nightmare in Heimbold’s debut thriller.
Mitch Alexander returns to California after serving in Afghanistan. He has learned in his art therapy program that daily intense painting can ease the nightmares he calls “Dream Wrecks.” He also uses the term to describe his “anguish on the canvas,” which he expresses in abstract paintings. A subsequent program involves Mitch and fellow artists dabbling in plein-air, or outdoor, landscape painting. One day, while painting at the beach, Mitch encounters a stranger who admires his work and hires him to execute a portrait. That man turns out to be Fidel Terrasombra, the brother of Mexican drug lord Maximilliano “El Jefe” Terrasombra. Mitch’s portrait is such a success that El Jefe orders Fidel to kidnap Mitch and smuggle him into Mexico to paint the drug czar’s beloved mother. Although chained at night, Mitch enjoys many perks during the day: a beautiful studio, expensive painting supplies, and visits from the determined, delicious Amparo Terrasombra, a gallery owner and El Jefe’s niece. When Amparo exhibits Mitch’s Dream Wrecks in galleries in Mexico City and Berlin, the paintings sell for thousands of dollars. After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Joint Operation Center targets El Jefe, and the Mexican army raids the drug lord’s home, Mitch contemplates returning to California. But because his relationship with Amparo has blossomed from businesslike to personal, he remains in Mexico, albeit disguised. A smart move considering Amparo’s dangerous relatives will undoubtedly hunt him down. The author, a painter, shares his vast knowledge of scenic locations in Mexico and offers vivid commentary on creating art, including how certain elements contribute to a work’s outcome. Some depictions of the art world, however, seem unrealistic or confusing, particularly the short amount of time needed to arrange a gallery show and the claim that Mitch’s art teacher founded plein-air expression (Monet painted plein-air landscapes in the 19th century). But the sweetness of the love story and the page-turning scenes of imprisonment and subterfuge atone for any flaws.
A stylish novel about an intrepid painter and a Mexican drug lord that blends artists, guns, and money.