Hands across the border: In this odd couple story, a Mexican woman fleeing for her life is sheltered by a reclusive Californian while the bad guys hover.
Dawn in the sand dunes, on the US side of the fence. Sam Fahey is out tracking some wild dogs when a young Mexican woman, badly beaten, collapses at his feet. An unlikely Good Samaritan, Sam takes her to his trailer. Now the backstory, taking us to the novel’s halfway point. Sam is a worm farmer, a grizzled loner. He inherited his small property near the border from his hateful, homicidal father. His glory years were his teens, when a legendary surfer (and surrogate father) taught him how to ride the swells. After that it was all downhill: drug-running and jail time. Now he barely gets by, popping pills, guzzling beer, suffering panic attacks away from home. As for the Mexican, 23-year-old Magdalena works for an attorney in Tijuana, building a case against a major US polluter. (This storyline goes nowhere, though Nunn [The Dogs of Winter, 1997, etc.] doesn’t let us forget the polluted landscape.) She also volunteers at an abortion clinic, which brings us to her assailant Armando, who has tried to kill Magdalena in revenge for her helping his abused wife to abort their child. After all this set-up, the story’s second half shows the strengthening bond between Sam, whom we know inside-out, and the fuzzily sketched Magdalena. Armando and his henchmen cross the border to hunt her down. A long chase sequence with random killings is not lean enough to qualify as suspense. The villains are dispatched, and Sam, rehabilitated by the influence of a good woman, finds the strength to rescue six illegals from the pounding surf and to ascend the Mystic Peak, mother of all waves.
Uneven: the violence is tainted by lurid excess, but the relationship between Sam and Magdalena is quite touching and not overdone.