A border patrolman finds out about his past while the reader finds out little.
James Santana rides along a stretch of the Mexican border hunting down illegal aliens. The fight to hold back the torrents of humanity from making their way into the US has taken its toll on James. Half-Mexican himself, he is mocked by the aliens, and his past is a mess—a series of foster homes, the last depositing him in this small California town, juvenile delinquency and a stretch in the Navy. His present isn’t much better. Besides the conflict he feels on the job, his marriage to the gorgeous and stubborn Mercedes seems on the rocks, and he’s got a not-so-small torch for a woman at the office. Haunting him also are the coyotes, the feral-eyed opportunists who extort money from aliens to get them across the border—and betray them to bandits or leave them, lost and wandering in the desert. At story’s start, James appears to be heading for a confrontation with Anteater, one of the more foul of the coyotes. Unfortunately, though, second-novelist Palmer (All Saints, 1997) takes James on a trip into his past, triggered by the discovery of the body of a young boy on the farm of the man who raised him—illegally. Around the same time, James gets a letter from a lawyer telling him that his birth mother has died and he’s her sole heir. Usually, this might be a way of getting to the bottom of the taciturn James, but the task is beyond Palmer’s powers. The deeper the story goes into the tangles of James’s true family history, the less interesting the book gets. Even a final act with James sneaking into the US disguised as an alien himself fails to bring much to the table.
A potentially fascinating tale of cross-generational, multiracial, and cross-border conflicts is dissipated through pallid characterizations and meek storytelling.