An exposed undercover agent awaits rescue and recalls his past in this ambitious cross between a coming-of-age tale and a period thriller.
Gilliam’s debut novel could be described as three-in-one. It opens with undercover narcotics agent Tim Kelly being discovered by Rodolfo Guzman, his longtime surrogate father and the drug kingpin he has agreed to betray. Kelly suffers through merciless torture and blacks out to recollections of his past—of growing up in the 1950s in Port Isabel, Texas, running off to the mean streets of New Orleans and eventually lying his way into the U.S. Coast Guard, where a heinous friendly-fire incident in Vietnam, along with its subsequent whitewash and Kelly’s dishonorable discharge, forever alters the way he sees his world. Kelly is a throwback to the spirit of Horatio Alger, a young man capable of almost anything through sheer gumption. Everything comes naturally to him, his only weakness being his temper, which makes him not the most original protagonist, but still an endearing one. Similarly, Guzman transforms organically from the friendly benevolent figure to the betrayed, cutthroat mobster, and his constant presence, looking out for Kelly and asking nothing in return, greatly complicates Kelly’s decision to turn informant. Other characters are more simplistic—the thug Rucho never changes from the bully that Kelly bests on the playground, Kelly’s love interest is only there to suffer and drive him forward and the brave men who die in the novel’s eponymous tragedy aren’t fleshed out enough to drive home the loss Kelly feels. Gilliam’s knowledge of the technical aspects of military service is obvious, and though it slows the story’s pace, these details will be appreciated by those who enjoy well-researched nautical jargon. The pacing also suffers from the book’s scope—in telling a story about growing up, the military and infiltrating a drug cartel, Gilliam’s tale never slows down long enough to give its most tragic and important moments their proper emotional weight.
Plenty of fast-paced action that tries to cover too much ground.