UNDER THE SKIN by James Carlos Blake


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Blake makes a small leap from the grotesquely amusing Roaring Twenties’ crime-spree scene in A World of Thieves (2002), switching to Depression-era Texas with a Tex-Mex cast.

Mexico’s in mid-Revolution in 1914, and gunfire in Juàrez can be heard across the Rio Grande at Mrs. O’Malley’s whorehouse in El Paso, when Pancho Villa himself comes to bed his choice gringo, the freckled Irish redhead Megan. He comes with Rodolfo Fierro, who just that day has killed 300 Federal prisoners before coming to Mrs. O’Malley’s. Something fiery about Fierro causes his whore, Spooky Ava (real name: Ella), to remove her pessary and go for love. Pregnant, she marries rancher Cullen Youngblood and gives birth to James Rudolph Youngblood. Our only hint about her past is that she was once thought crazy. On New Year’s Eve 1936, we meet Jimmy, now 21, in the Free State of Galveston, the nation’s most wide-open gambling city, and, as we meet Jimmy the Kid, who has graveyard eyes, he’s driving an ice pick into Willie Rags’s heart. Jimmy’s an enforcer, bagman, and bodyguard for Rose and Sam Maceo, who suck up all the gambling profits on the island and in Galveston County, and Willie Rags worked for foolish folk trying to muscle in on Maceo territory. Sam does the glad-handing and charitable handouts for public welfare, and Rose is the strong-arm, assisted by his Ghosts, who also help keep the local crime rate down. Jimmy is Rose’s personal bodyguard, at times assisted by fellow Ghosts Raymond Brando (not Don Corleone but a great mimic) and LQ (from Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country). Rags’s rival mob in Houston wants its slots back. Bloody business affairs follow. Then Jimmy meets skin-tingling Daniela Zarate, whom he dives into Mexico to save.

Different time period, but the message is still the same and as bleak as Peckinpah’s: Even a world of thieves needs rules—and loyalty.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-380-97751-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2002


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